NIST Launches the Organization of Scientific Area Committees

Collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is ongoing to address several key initiatives that aim to improve the scientific basis of forensic evidence used in courts of law. DOJ launched the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) earlier this year, and NIST is in the midst of launching the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC). On Feb. 4, 2014, NIST gave the first public presentation of the OSAC draft framework to the NCFS. This draft reflected input the NIST forensic science team received following a September 2013 Notice of Inquiry published in the Federal Register. Members of the forensic science community submitted more than 300 pages of public comments.

When fully launched, the OSAC will be a collaborative body of more than 600 voting members consisting of forensic science practitioners and other experts who represent all levels of government, academia, and industry. Its aim is to strengthen forensic science through three main activities:

  • supporting the development and promulgation of forensic science consensus documentary standards and guidelines;
  • highlighting each forensic discipline’s research and measurement standards needs;
  • and ensuring that a sufficient scientific basis exists for each discipline.

The OSAC will bring uniformity to the previous ad hoc system used to support the development of forensic science standards. OSAC will set up a Registry of Approved Standards along with a Registry of Approved Guidelines. Both registries will be freely available on the OSAC website.

Initially NIST will support the OSAC and eventually intends to spin the organization out of NIST to operate on its own. NIST has successfully convened and transitioned other standards activities such as the National Conference on Weights and Measures and the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel that continue to operate successfully today.

NIST funding will cover a web-based system for managing documents and online voting. It will provide all committees and subcommittees with a virtual meeting platform to conduct business, and it will pay for travel for voting members to attend key in-person meetings.

Since the initial introduction of the draft framework, NIST has made several changes based on the feedback received from the NCFS and forensic science stakeholders. Going forward, the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB) of the OSAC will evaluate and authorize changes to the OSAC framework, including addition of new subcommittees. From mid-April to mid-May, NIST received more than 1,300 applications from interested stakeholders for membership in OSAC.

NIST, in collaboration with DOJ, has begun the selection process for OSAC positions starting with the FSSB. On June 26, NIST announced the selection of 17 academic researchers and forensic science experts for the FSSB which will serve as the OSAC governing board.

The new board includes five members who represent the research community, five members who chair the OSAC scientific area committees, six members who represent national forensic science professional organizations, and one ex officio member—Mark Stolorow, director of OSAC affairs for NIST. The board will oversee the OSAC’s three resource committees, five scientific area committees and 23 subcommittees. The subcommittees will perform much of the technical work, focusing on specific forensic science disciplines such as DNA, toxicology, medico-legal death investigation, facial identification, latent fingerprints, and firearms and toolmarks among others. These subcommittees will propose consensus documentary standards—developed by other standards development organizations or through the OSAC itself—for adoption by the scientific area committees and ultimately the board, to improve quality and consistency of work in the forensic science community.

On July 17, NIST announced the appointment of members to the Human Factors Committee (HFC), Legal Resource Committee (LRC), and Quality Infrastructure Committee (QIC). The HFC is composed of ten psychology and usability experts who provide guidance throughout the OSAC on the influence of systems design on human performance and on ways to mitigate errors in complex tasks. The LRC is composed of ten judges, lawyers, and legal experts who provide guidance throughout the OSAC about the legal ramifications of forensic standards under development and input on presentation of forensic science results to the legal system. The QIC is composed of 15 standards experts, quality systems managers, laboratory managers, and accreditation and certification specialists who are responsible for providing input throughout the OSAC on quality issues related to standards and information on how specific standards will impact laboratory operations.

Next, NIST will appoint members to the five scientific area committees and 23 subcommittees. These appointments will occur in September and October 2014, respectively. NIST is planning the first set of public scientific area committee meetings during the winter of 2014/2015. Find more information on OSAC activities and events on the OSAC homepage (see links below).

About the Author

John Paul Jones II is the associate director of OSAC Affairs at NIST.

For More Information

For more information about OSAC, or to get involved, please contact the author, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Important Links

OSAC homepage

Forensic Science Standards Board

Resource committees

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