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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
evidence. For the most part, it is impossible to discern the magnitude of those limitations, and reasonable people will differ on their significance.
Forensic science research is not well supported, and there is no unified strategy for developing a forensic science research plan across federal agencies. Relative to other areas of science, the forensic science disciplines have extremely limited opportunities for research funding. Although the FBI and NIJ have supported some research in the forensic science disciplines, the level of support has been well short of what is necessary for the forensic science community to establish strong links with a broad base of research universities and the national research community. Moreover, funding for academic research is limited and requires law enforcement collaboration, which can inhibit the pursuit of more fundamental scientific questions essential to establishing the foundation of forensic science. Finally, the broader research community generally is not engaged in conducting research relevant to advancing the forensic science disciplines.
The forensic science community also is hindered by its extreme disaggregation—marked by multiple types of practitioners with different levels of education and training and different professional cultures and standards for performance. Many forensic scientists are given scant opportunity for professional activities such as attending conferences or publishing their research, which could help strengthen that professional community. Furthermore, the fragmented nature of the forensic science community 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 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 community, it became obvious to the committee that truly meaningful advances will not come without significant leadership from the federal government. The forensic science community lacks the necessary governance structure to pull itself up from its current weaknesses. Insufficiencies in the current system cannot be addressed simply by increasing the staff within existing crime laboratories and medical examiners offices. Of the many professional societies that serve the forensic science community, 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 community. The major federal resources—NIJ