Reacting to Senator Leahy's Introduction of a Forensic Science Reform Bill and the possibility of another Senate committee chairman following suit, 2012* ASA President Bob Rodriguez has sent a letter to each chairman with ASA's comments.
The forensic science legislation is largely a reaction to the 2009 National Academies’ report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, which the ASA Board endorsed in its April 2010 Statement on Forensic Science.
While Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) listed forensic science reform as one of his committee’s 2011 agenda items, Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was the first to act with introduction on January 25 of S. 132, "the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act." (Leahy also issued a draft bill outline last spring, on which 2009* President Sally Morton commented.)
In both S. 132 and the potential Rockefeller legislation, independence of the office/institute overseeing forensic science reform will be a key issue. While ASA strongly supports forensic science reform, it does not support S. 132 because the legislation places its Office of Forensic Science (OFS) in the Department of Justice (DOJ). In his letter to Chairman Leahy, 2012 ASA President Bob Rodriguez states
As Strengthening Forensic Science notes, DOJ’s “principal mission is to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law.” A DOJ-hosted OFS therefore presents potential conflicts of interest precluding the independence required for a forensic science office to be effective at serving the entire forensic science community, including defendants. Furthermore, because DOJ is so integrally tied to the forensic science culture and current problems, a forensic science office must be independent of the DOJ to realize the necessary changes in a timely manner. Finally, DOJ lacks the expertise and infrastructure to support the scientific needs of a forensic science institute.
If Rockefeller were to introduce his own bill, it’s likely that a forensic science office/institute would be hosted at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). President Rodriguez has also written a letter to Chairman Rockefeller urging him to act on the Strengthening Forensic Science recommendations. If a Rockefeller forensic science bill were to indeed establish a forensic science office/institute at NIST, Rodriguez states that such a hosting should be temporary:
[NIST] could serve as the incubator for NIFS, if the following conditions are met. Most importantly, placing NIFS within NIST should be temporary, with the legislation specifying that independence be considered after, say, three years and realized within, say, five years. NIFS also should have the autonomy and resources within NIST to meet its responsibilities and foster its independence.
ASA will monitor subsequent developments, including actions in the House of Representatives.
*The 2010 and 2011 ASA presidents both work for government agencies and so are ineligible to sign such letters.