Friday, October 28, 2011

Leahy Bill? Don't hold your breath

I normally don't wade into the turbulent world of politics, but I am going to today ... sort of. I attended a presentation recently, and (reading between the lines) I think that those who believe that the Leahy Bill (Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act) is dead in the water and nothing is going to happen are going to be in for a big surprise.

Meet The Executive Office of the President of the United States' Subcommittee on Forensic Science (SoFS).

According to their web site, "The purpose of the Subcommittee on Forensic Science (SoFS) is to advise and assist the Committee on Science (COS), the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), and other coordination bodies of the Executive Office of the President on policies, procedures and plans related to forensic science in the national security, criminal justice, and medical examiner/coroner systems at the local, state and federal levels."

Ok. So what do they want to do with their office space? Good question. Here's what they say are their goals and objectives, "This Subcommittee was created to assess the practical challenges of implementing recommendations in the 2009 National Research Council (NRC) report entitled Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, and to advise the White House on how best to achieve the goals outlined in that report. The SoFS is charged with developing practical and timely approaches to enhancing the validity and reliability of the federal government’s forensic science activities. This includes ensuring that regional, state and local entities adopt best practices in forensic sciences, and facilitating a strong coordinated effort across federal agencies to identify and address important federal policy, program and budget matters."

With me so far. No opinion yet ... just straight reporting from their web site.

Begin opinion: Look at the purpose statement. Their purpose is to advise on forensic science as it relates to criminal justice (among other things) at the federal, state, and local levels. Their goals include advising the White House on how best to implement the recommendations contained in the NAS report. Now read this statement again, "This includes ensuring that regional, state and local entities adopt best practices in forensic sciences, and facilitating a strong coordinated effort across federal agencies to identify and address important federal policy, program and budget matters." How does the federal government assure compliance in other areas of policy? With money. Again, my opinion and my observations are thus - soon enough you'll be faced with a choice; implement the recommendations or face the loss of federal funds. No need for Congress to act. No need for the Leahy Bill. This will come by way of regulation, enforced with a simple tool (money). Don't believe me? How was "education reform" accomplished? By attaching funding strings to education bills like NCLB. Remember, in a general sense, what the federal government funds, it controls.

Please don't get me wrong. Best Practices are necessary. Consensus standards are a good thing. Everyone in our business should be working from an SOP. Things like quality assurance/control, peer-review, training, and so on are great. How many police labs accredit their DME forensic functions? Not many. How many would be ready to accredit them soon? Not many. How many agencies could withstand the loss of some/all federal funds if their DME forensic functions were not under their main accreditation umbrella? Not many.

In doing my part to help things go right, I'm working with LEVA to create an accreditation program for DME labs. It will serve as an alternative for those agencies who are not ASCLD/LAB accredited and are performing DME forensics. More on this later.

Again, while my commentary may be a bit political in tone, it's more of a "here's the way I see it based on my recent experiences." I'd be interested to hear how you see this working, or how you see this affecting your agency.

Enjoy.

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