Forensic Science Drives
The forensic science overhaul persists,
even without the NCFS
Seth Augenstein, Senior Science Writer
Headlines screamed when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions disbanded the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) in April. Some experts predicted federal authorities were pulling back on the mission to add more scientific grounding to American forensic science, a reassessment begun during
the Obama administration. But the “forensic overhaul” is still underway. The Organization of Scientific Area
Committees for Forensic Science, known as OSAC, continues to travel the course set by NCFS since 2013.
The scientific look into disciplines from blood spatter to drug testing, from fingerprints and odontology
to futuristic facial recognition, continues among the hundreds of experts within OSAC, basically all of
whom are volunteers.
While NCFS set the initial agenda for the forensic overhaul, OSAC continues the hard work to implement the changes for use in the American criminal justice system.
“The Commission and OSAC are separate efforts,” said Mark Stolorow, director for OSAC Affairs.
“The decision by DOJ not to renew the Commission’s charter does not affect OSAC.”
Part of an initiative by NIST and the Department of Justice to strengthen science, OSAC, which is split
into dozens of subcommittees of forensic experts, continues to meet and evaluate the state of forensic sci-
ence. All 560 OSAC members from its 34 committees and subcommittees, plus an additional 100 subject
matter experts, converged for in-person meetings in Leesburg, Virginia, in mid-April.
OSAC also has 155 standards still making their way through a complex pipeline of votes and approvals,
officials told Forensic Magazine.
OSAC thus continues its work, despite the NCFS decision. And all signs point toward the OSAC
experts continuing their very full agendas in the years to come, the officials said.
“We’ve been instructed to keep going, and move ahead,” said Andy Smith, chair of OSAC’s Firearms
and Toolmark Subcommittee. “There’s been no indication that we should stop work in any way.”
NCFS and OSAC initially emerged from the hailstorm
of criticism that began with the 2009 National Academy of Sciences report titled, “Strengthening Forensic
Science in the United States: A Path Forward.” That
report blasted some long-established practices, including hair analysis, bitemarks and eyewitness testimony.
A similar report by the President’s Council on Science
and Technology (PCAST) reiterated some of those
grievances last fall, in the final months of the Obama
The NCFS, by the end of its final meeting in April,
produced 45 documents and recommendations in three
years of work—many of which directed OSAC’s explorations into forensic disciplines. But the commission itself
The OSAC firearms and toolmarks subcommittee is working on
a document to present uncertainty measurements in firearms
matching, based on the barrel and overall length of a gun.