An open letter from ASCLD to Senator Patrick Leahy regarding the National Academy of Sciences report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”
The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Dear Mr. Chairman:
On behalf of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), we thank you for this opportunity to present our views with respect to the findings of the National Academy of Sciences report entitled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” ASCLD believes the complexity of the report distills down to two fundamental issues that affect forensic laboratory operations: the need for (i) standardization in education, training and forensic science delivery and (ii) adequate, sustainable resources across the forensic community. ASCLD has long been a strong advocate on these issues because they are critical in order to safeguard the integrity and value of our profession.
During the course of the NAS committee’s work, ASCLD was invited to present its position concerning issues facing forensic science. These issues included critical needs in the following areas:
- Technology and Scientific Advances – improving the current fragmented and inconsistent technology available in crime laboratories across the United States and addressing the need for standards in forensic science
- Personnel and Training – mandating ethics guidelines, ensuring quality through establishing standards for education, training, accreditation, certification, and use of common language
- Best Practices and Efficiencies – identifying means toward improvement such as benchmarking, process improvements, balancing service priorities
- Financial Resources – appropriating sustainable, flexible funding sources at the national, state and local levels
ASCLD welcomes and appreciates the scientific and scholarly peer review of our profession as well as the constructive discussions and debates centering on science and policy issues. However, as you and your committee move forward with policy and implementation strategies, we respectfully ask that you consider the perspectives of crime lab directors and managers across the United States.
Although ASCLD supports many of the important issues covered in the NAS report recommendations, we do not support the formation of a new government entity at this time. Clearly, the need identified in the NAS report is directed specifically to enforceable standards. However taking the current fiscal realities into mind, the need for enforceable standards within forensic science outweighs the ability to fund, create and implement a new national entity. Congress should identify an existing government body that cuts across federal agencies and budgets at the highest level to be charged with this important task. The report clearly identifies a wealth of existing resources within the professional scientific community; within our strategic partners in science, education and policy; and among the many criminal justice stakeholders available to the forensic science community that this body can partner with to strengthen the forensic sciences.
ASCLD supports proper and continuous funding that is critical for all forensic science laboratories and operations to meet their operational demands as well as their training and continuing education needs. Doing more with less, crime laboratories today are generally forced to address the heavy workload demands placed upon them with limited resources and ability to address equally important professional needs such as training, research and new, innovative technology development and transfer. The forensic community has benefited from grant funding, but the limited terms and conditions only provide temporary relief of symptoms. Fortunately, these all important funding needs have been equally recognized in the NAS report. Congress should support funding that must be substantial and consistent for all disciplines (not just DNA) in order to provide accurate, timely and meaningful results that can identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent.