NIST Corner: OSAC Gaining Momentum in Forensic Science Standards Development
Written by Linda Joy   

NIST’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) has come a long way since its first board members were appointed nearly a year ago. OSAC, initiated in early 2014 to coordinate the development of uniform forensic science standards and guidelines, is already at work on high-priority needs.


Members of the Crime Scene/Death Investigation Scientific Area Committees pose for a group shot during the first OSAC public meetings in Orlando in February 2015.

While OSAC organizers spent most of 2014 on the details of organizing—defining roles and responsibilities, collecting and vetting applicants, appointing members, and planning meetings—OSAC has shifted into operating mode since early 2015.

“We have moved relatively quickly from sketching the details out on paper to jumping into the real work of developing standards and guidelines,” said John Paul Jones II, NIST’s associate director of OSAC affairs. “The forensic science community has really embraced the effort. Literally hundreds of forensic and criminal justice experts have volunteered to serve on OSAC committees, subcommittees, and task groups.”

With 542 members, OSAC subcommittees have identified more than 100 high-priority needs for forensic science standards and guidelines in specific forensic science disciplines. Two dozen OSAC subcommittee chairs presented these discipline-specific priorities at public meetings in Orlando, Fla., in February. View archived versions of the live webcasts of these meetings and PDF documents detailing the priorities in the OSAC public document library.

OSAC’s leadership board, the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB), was appointed last June. Board members now have a monthly teleconference to track progress and vote on items needing FSSB approval or direction. The board has held two in-person meetings, in August and December 2014, with the next scheduled for May near Washington, D.C. The FSSB executive team (chair, vice chair, and executive secretary) has a standing weekly call.

After appointing the FSSB, NIST announced the initial members of the OSAC resource committees, which include the Human Factors Committee, the Legal Resource Committee, and the Quality Infrastructure Committee. The Human Factors Committee met in person at NIST in December, and the Legal Resource Committee and Quality Infrastructure Committee held their first in-person meetings in Norman, Okla., in January. Much of the work of these committees is done through virtual meetings that leverage online meeting venues and teleconferences.

NIST named the first members of the Scientific Area Committees (SACs) in September 2014 and the subcommittee members last October. The Digital Evidence Subcommittee members were named in December, later than the others because the Digital Evidence Subcommittee subject area was not added to OSAC until September. Therefore, it had a later application deadline.

The first task for OSAC subcommittee members was to review a NIST-created inventory of existing forensic science standards, guidelines, and related documents, the latest version of which is on the OSAC website. The subcommittees met in person for the first time in January in Norman, Okla., to discuss the needs and priorities for standards and guidelines within each one’s forensic science discipline.

OSAC reached a significant milestone last February when it held its first public meetings during the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting in Orlando. (See the agenda at http://www.nist.gov/forensics/osac/sac-agenda-orlando-2015.cfm). Subcommittee chairs explained the priorities along with the rationale behind them. Each chair then took questions and comments from audience members. (See the OSAC public document library for video and PDF files of the presentations at https://workspace.forensicosac.org/kws/public/documents?view=all-documents.)

Since these public meetings, OSAC SACs, subcommittees, and task groups have held many virtual meetings and continue to make progress. OSAC forms task groups as needed to develop documents destined for the OSAC Registry of Approved Standards and the OSAC Registry of Approved Guidelines. OSAC components draw task group participants from existing OSAC members as well as from the pool of applicants who have applied for OSAC membership. Individuals selected to participate on task groups who are not currently OSAC members are given “affiliate” status. More than 1,800 people have applied to participate in OSAC and may be called upon to lend their expertise in forensic science, law, criminal justice, or standards development as members or affiliates.

“We anticipate needing more than 100 task groups to work in parallel on the various steps that go into producing the standards and guidelines for the official OSAC registries,” Jones said.

Next steps for OSAC include several meetings this summer. The Legal Resource, Human Factors, and Quality Infrastructure resource committees, along with Biology/DNA, Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis, and Crime Scene/Death Investigation scientific area committees will meet July 27-28 (as of press time the tentative location is Gaithersburg, Md.).

The Digital Evidence/Multimedia and Physics/Pattern Interpretation scientific area committees will meet in Sacramento, Calif., in early August as part of the International Association for Identification centennial meeting. The IAI meeting will also feature presentations from many OSAC subcommittee chairs on their latest activities. The FSSB has formed an outreach task group and will continue to line up professional meeting presentations in order to inform the forensic science community about the latest OSAC developments.

To stay up to date with OSAC and other NIST forensic science news by email, go to www.nist.gov/forensics and sign up to receive NIST forensic science news alerts.


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