In phrasing some of our recommendations, we opt for generic descriptions—“ATF and its NIBIN contractors” or the “NIBIN technical platform”—since they describe functionality that should apply regardless of the specific platform or vendor. One major possible enhancement of interest to the committee—a change in the basic imaging standard from two-dimensional photography to three-dimensional topography—is not discussed here; instead, we give the topic more detailed examination in Chapters 7 and 8.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the NIBIN program have made strides to gather feedback on system procedures and performance from the user base, efforts for which they should be commended. Formally, forums for the gathering of feedback have included periodic meetings of the ATF-established NIBIN Users Congress since November 2002; users are also asked to serve as regional outreach coordinators, providing a sounding board for comments both informally and through the user group sessions. Based on the user group meetings, ATF and Forensic Technology WAI, Inc. (FTI), periodically update (and describe progress in addressing) a “top 10” list of user concerns and suggestions for improving NIBIN and the IBIS platform. In addition, NIBIN program staff periodically collect reports from the regions on indicators of system usage—e.g., cross-regional searches and number of correlation requests that have not been reviewed by local sites—that go beyond the monthly operational statistics.
The committee chair and staff attended the sixth NIBIN Users Congress meeting at FTI’s U.S. training center in Largo, Florida, in October 2004. That session suggested a strong commitment among program managers and local users to making the system work more effectively as a key part of routine investigations. Concerns expressed at the meeting ranged from time-consuming software glitches (e.g., the focus jumping to the top of the list when an already-viewed comparison report is deleted rather than advancing to the next line) to serious interface issues (e.g., problems with the lighting filter on the microscope, particularly for side light images, that led some agencies to jury-rig fixes using Post-It notes to get acceptable images). This particular session came in the wake of the rollout of a new version of IBIS software meant to be compliant with federal government and Department of Justice cybersecurity requirements. The switch to the new version was problematic and debilitating in some sites, effectively shutting down evidence entry for days or weeks; user feedback helped assess the scope of the implementation problems and can suggest better practices for future major revisions. Some of the enhancements we suggest below reflect