Third Forensic Laboratory Voluntarily Adopts OSAC Standards
Written by Rich Press   

LATE LAST YEAR, the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) became the third crime laboratory to voluntarily adopt standards approved by the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC). Those standards define minimum requirements, best practices, scientific protocols, and other guidance to help ensure that the results of forensic analysis are reliable and reproducible.

Peter Stout, CEO and president of HFSC, said that he and his staff strive to constantly improve the quality of services they provide to Houstonians. “Adopting these standards, the result of years of work by the nation’s top forensic scientists, is the logical next step.”

HFSC joins two other laboratories that had already taken this step. In 2016, the Kentucky State Police Central Forensics Laboratory drug chemistry section voluntarily adopted all applicable OSAC-approved standards. Also in 2016, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Sciences adopted into their laboratory quality manual all OSAC standards that are applicable to analyses they perform.

OSAC, which is administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), works to strengthen the nation’s use of forensic science by facilitating the development of technically sound standards and promoting their adoption by the forensic community. All standards on the OSAC Registry have passed a review of technical merit by forensic practitioners, academic researchers, statisticians, and measurement scientists.

“Our goal is to improve laboratory operations throughout the country,” said John Paul Jones II, the OSAC Program Manager at NIST. “Since there is no forensic science regulatory agency in the U.S., voluntary adoption is currently the only route to better standardization.”

Beyond the three labs that have publicly announced voluntary adoption, many OSAC-approved standards are in widespread use, said Jones. He cited as examples two standards from the National Fire Protection Association: The Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations and The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator. ASTM seized drug standards are also widely used, he said.

Still, much work remains to be done. Outside of DNA, there are few discipline-specific forensic science standards that are applied uniformly across the United States. Instead, the nation’s 400-plus crime labs follow general laboratory and other standards that may vary from one jurisdiction to another.

OSAC is helping to fill that gap with uniform, high-quality standards. The organization’s roughly 560 members have expertise in 25 specific forensic science disciplines, as well as general expertise in scientific research, measurement science, statistics, law, and policy. To date, 15 standards have been posted to the OSAC Registry, and more than 200 are in the pipeline.

OSAC was created in 2014 by NIST in partnership with the Department of Justice. Although NIST provides administrative support to the organization, most OSAC members work in crime labs, research centers, and other institutions across the nation.

About the Author

Rich Press is science writer and public affairs specialist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
Click here to read the full issue.

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