IAI Presidential Update

IAI Response to NIST Inquiry
November 18, 2013Photo of Lesley Hammer

IAI Response to the NIST Inquiry: Possible Models for the Administration and Support of Discipline-Specific Guidance Groups for Forensic Science

The International Association for Identification (IAI) represents approximately 7000 forensic professionals from around the world. We are the largest organization of active forensic science practitioners, and as such have a vested interest in the presence and operation of standard setting groups in the United States.

The IAI supports the continuation of the Scientific Working Groups (SWG's) as they create standards and provide guidance for forensic practice. These functions are in direct support of the mission of the IAI.

The position statement of the IAI on the establishment of guidance groups:
The IAl strongly believes that any group providing standard guidance in a forensic discipline should be primarily composed of active practitioners that are subject matter experts as voting members, as well as other relevant advisors (e.g., academic, judicial members). Further, to ensure representation of the community, guidance groups should include federal, state, local, government and private practice representation; and should incorporate members and products of the SWG's.

The following are detailed comments that correspond to the topics outlined in the published inquiry request:

1. Structure of the Guidance Groups
The Scientific Working Groups (SWG's) have many elements that should be retained:

With additional governance and support, forensic guidance groups could have increased intra-discipline communication and standardization of discipline products and group operation. Through unified goals, discipline gaps and overlap could be identified, resulting in products that could be marketed as cohesive forensic resources to the relevant communities.

The use of a standard development organization (SDO) is supported in the context of a standard process for vetting and for the production of equivalent products; however, these should be available at no cost to the general public. If the use of an SDO requires a fee-based membership to obtain products or participate in the vetting process, the IAI recommends it not be used. Partnership with an SDO should occur at the overall governance level.

2. Impact of Guidance Groups
Without funding restrictions or legislative mandates, the impact and acceptance of the guidance group products may be limited. Organizations such as the IAI are in a position to distribute the products of guidance groups to members and certified practitioners and to encourage their use in practice as recognized standards. Additionally, professional organizations have the capability to raise awareness of the existence of the standards to end users (e.g. lab managers, law enforcement agencies, justice system).

Standards produced by current SWG's are known and referenced internationally. Any marketing of the products of guidance groups should outreach to relevant international entities (forensic professional bodies, working groups and regulators in countries outside the US).

3. Representation in the Guidance Groups
Representation within the guidance groups is of paramount importance to the IAI.

To ensure that the groups are both relevant and accepted as authorities, it is recommended that forensic scientists compose the majority presence. It is also recommended that the chair of each guidance group be a practicing forensic scientist. The forensic scientists included should be actively and currently involved in forensic work, recognized experts in their field and significantly experienced. The IAI encourages balanced representation through the identification of stakeholders, end users and customers. These include, in addition to the practicing forensic scientists, academics with scientific background and representatives from the legal community. Additional stakeholders should have the ability to participate in the process through a system of publication and comment on draft products.

Representation should include members from all levels of government (Federal, State, Local, Tribal), the private sector, and from the varied geographical areas of the US. Groups should retain the ability to invite guests from other countries and/or with specific areas of expertise to address topics on an as-needed basis. Groups should be kept at a manageable size to ensure efficiency, and membership should be systematically rotated to ensure balance from the relevant communities. Additionally, sub-disciplines within each discipline should be identified and represented.

The best way to engage forensic organizations is to recognize an organizations relevancy to each guidance group discipline and make an active effort to ensure there is an official connection established. For example, crime scene, bloodstain, latent prints, shoe/tire connect to the IAI, DNA and toxicology to the American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) and Firearms to the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE). Each group should include representation from the appropriate forensic association(s). These organizations are excellent resources for recruiting group membership, disseminating products, acquiring feedback, and marketing implementation strategies. Care should be given to connect with these groups equally and respectively; no one organization should become the sole connection or professional body representative for all forensic disciplines.

Lastly, representation on the guidance groups should be composed through a system that is open and transparent to all stakeholders. Open application processes and clearly defined selection criteria should be established and published.

4. Scope of the Guidance Groups
It is important that all forensic science disciplines be represented in the guidance group structure. Each discipline utilized in a court of law should be given the opportunity to refine, further develop and ensure reliability. Two areas not currently represented by a SWG are crime scene examination and forensic art. It is recommended that these two disciplines be added to the overall structure. There are multiple grouping strategies that are potentially successful; the important aspects are to encourage intra-discipline communication between all guidance groups and to ensure that each is supported adequately. For example, a crime scene guidance group would need effective communication with all guidance groups to ensure recommended policies are in agreement with those of the other discipline guidance groups.

A possible role for NIST is to encourage and support the research outreach of the guidance groups, allowing groups remain focused primarily on standard production.

In summary, the IAI is comprised of thousands of dedicated members with a vast array of practical and scientific experience and includes many of the worlds leading forensic experts. The IAI is the leading accredited certification body in the areas of Latent Prints, Ten Prints, Crime Scene, Bloodstain Pattern, Footwear, Forensic Art, Photography, and Video Analysis, and has subject matter expert groups established in each of those afore listed forensic disciplines. As the largest representative forensic professional organization in the world, with a long history of dedication for forensic standardization, the IAI should be utilized as a primary resource to the creation and operation of forensic standard setting groups. We welcome all invitations to participate in discussions on this important topic.

Lesley Hammer, IAI President