National Commission Begins Work to Strengthen Forensic Science

This morning, the National Forensic Science Commission , a new Federal Advisory Committee jointly chaired by the Department of Justice and the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, is meeting for the first time to begin its important work of strengthening the forensic sciences.  OSTP Director John Holdren will welcome the Commission to underscore the White House’s support for this important effort and to encourage the group to take full advantage of its unique opportunity to make a difference in this challenging arena of science and policy.

The standing up of the Commission is one of a series of efforts this Administration has undertaken to improve the forensic sciences, which span across a wide range of disciplines from DNA and fingerprints, to tire and tread marks, to ballistics, handwriting, and trace-chemical analyses.  This morning, OSTP released a progress report on some of Administration’s achievements in the domains of forensic science research, practice, and policy that promise to undergird and complement the Commission’s work. 

The Commission’s members—an  impressive array of stakeholders with a breadth of expertise and experience—are  well poised to take on the challenging tasks outlined in the Commission’s Charter, which include providing recommendations and advice to the Department of Justice concerning strategies for strengthening the validity and reliability of the forensic sciences, enhancing quality assurance and quality control in forensic labs, and identifying and recommending protocols for evidence collection, analysis, and reporting. 

The task before them will not be easy.  As the National Academy of Sciences made clear in its 2009 report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States:  A Path Forward, the challenges facing the forensic science community are not just scientific but also systemic and  highly complex.  The Commission’s success—the  development, and ultimately, implementation of its recommendations—will  require a sustained, national commitment, and the support and engagement of the full forensic science community. 

But there is no question about the importance of that goal. Ensuring that only the most reliable forensic science and testimony make their way to the courtroom is a powerful tool for counteracting inequality and unfairness in America, and an important part of the Administration’s overarching goal of enhancing equal justice and opportunity in this Nation—a goal emphasized by the President last week in his State of the Union address. 

Tania Simoncelli is OSTP’s Assistant Director for Forensic Science


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