18 Forensic Magazine | www.forensicmag.com OCTOBER 2015
The forensic community has been under attack for several years. The National Academy of Science issued its scathing report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward back in 2009. The news media have repeatedly questioned the soundness of forensic science labo-
ratories and forensic law enforcement in general, and with reference to specific instances of wrongdoing.
To address the concerns raised by these reports, there is a growing trend
among forensic agencies to seek accreditation to international standards that
require a robust management system and technical competence. Becoming an
accredited agency assures customers that the forensic agency complies with in-
ternational standards and internationally recognized good practices, and that its
staff is technically competent to perform specific types of testing and inspections.
To become accredited, the forensic agency must apply to an accreditation
body and complete the necessary requirements of the accreditation process. But
there are two standards: ISO/IEC 17020 and ISO/IEC 17025. So the agency
quickly needs to consider which requirements are most appropriate for them.
Who gets accredited to which standard?
ISO/IEC 17025 is the standard for testing and calibration laboratories and ISO/
IEC 17020 is the standard for inspection agencies. Both standards have equal
weight as international standards and neither one is better than the other. Each
standard is designed to meet certain criteria, and depending upon the situation,
one maybe more appropriate than the other. Since many agencies and compa-
nies have labs as well as crime scene units, these entities achieve accreditation to both standards. This can
be done within a singular assessment thereby eliminating the overlapping requirements.
ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO/IEC 17020 both include very similar management system requirements based
on ISO 9001:2008 (section 4 in ISO/IEC 17025 and clause 8 in ISO/IEC 17020). Beyond these ISO
9001-based requirements, the standards diverge significantly. ISO/IEC 17025 requirements are heavy with
regard to measurement uncertainty, traceability, and analytical validation. ISO/IEC 17020 requirements,
in contrast, focus more strongly on impartiality, independence, and confidentiality.
Both standards address best business practices as outlined in ISO 9001 as well as best scientific method
practices. The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new
knowledge, and/or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of
inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.
For forensics, ISO/IEC 17025 is designed for analytical testing laboratories. The standard focuses on measurement
uncertainty, metrological traceability, and proficiency as is appropriate when it comes to use of analytical
scientific instrumentation for the identification and quantitation of a material. ISO/IEC 17025 makes
reference to accuracy, precision, traceability, measurement uncertainty, and method validation, such as
using the USP nine steps or the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH). Because most testing
labs conduct analytical testing, ISO/IEC 17025 is a good fit. Forensic entities engage in a wide range of
multi-disciplines, however, and some of which are a good fit for ISO/IEC 17025 and some of which are
The differences between ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 for forensic agencies
Pat Bencivenga is the
Accreditation Manager for
Inspection and Forensic
Science at the ANSI-ASQ