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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
publishing their research, which could help strengthen the professional community and offset some of the disaggregation. The fragmented nature of the enterprise raises the worrisome prospect that the quality of evidence presented in court, and its interpretation, can vary unpredictably according to jurisdiction.
Numerous professional associations are organized around the forensic science disciplines, and many of them are involved in training and education (see Chapter 8) and are developing standards and accreditation and certification programs (see Chapter 7). The efforts of these groups are laudable. However, except for the largest organizations, it is not clear how these associations interact or the extent to which they share requirements, standards, or policies. Thus, there is a need for more consistent and harmonized requirements.
In the course of its deliberations and review of the forensic science enterprise, it became obvious to the committee that, although congressional action will not remedy all of the deficiencies in forensic science methods and practices, truly meaningful advances will not come without significant concomitant leadership from the federal government. The forensic science enterprise lacks the necessary governance structure to pull itself up from its current weaknesses. Of the many professional societies that serve the enterprise, none is dominant, and none has clearly articulated the need for change or presented a vision for accomplishing it. And clearly no municipal or state forensic office has the mandate to lead the entire enterprise. The major federal resources—NIJ and the FBI Laboratory—have provided modest leadership, for which they should be commended: NIJ has contributed a helpful research program and the FBI Laboratory has spearheaded the SWGs. But again, neither entity has recognized, let alone articulated, a need for change or a vision for achieving it. Neither has the full confidence of the larger forensic science community. And because both are part of a prosecutorial department of the government, they could be subject to subtle contextual biases that should not be allowed to undercut the power of forensic science.
The forensic science enterprise needs strong governance to adopt and promote an aggressive, long-term agenda to help strengthen the forensic science disciplines. Governance must be strong enough—and independent enough—to identify the limitations of forensic science methodologies, and must be well connected with the Nation’s scientific research base to effect meaningful advances in forensic science practices. The governance structure must be able to create appropriate incentives for jurisdictions to adopt and adhere to best practices and promulgate the necessary sanctions to discourage bad practices. It must have influence with educators in order to effect improvements to forensic science education. It must be able to identify standards and enforce them. A governance entity must be geared toward