According to an article in The Hill, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would begin to take on the challenges outlined in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) 2009 report, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States.”
The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012, sponsored by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, would create $200 million in grants to advance forensic science research, and would provide $100 million for the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) to create proper standards in forensics. These are among the types of actions that the NAS 2009 report called for, and they would begin the process of addressing the shortcomings in forensics that the report highlighted. According to the article, Senator Rockefeller says that:
the bill is partly a reaction to a 2009 report that said many forensic science disciplines have not established “either the validity of their approach or the accuracy of their conclusions.” He also cited a series of articles in The Washington Post about this issue, as well as an April editorial calling for a Justice Department review of convictions based on forensic evidence.
The bill is S. 3378 in the Senate and H.R. 6106 in the House.
It has been more than three years since the publication of the NAS report, and this bill represents the first tentative steps toward addressing the many problems the report highlighted. Let’s hope it passes, and that it is the first of many. But remember that law enforcement actively denounced the NAS report, and in Congressional hearings said that most of what it proposed was unnecessary and unwelcome. (See “Failed Evidence” when it is published next month, for the details.) So the bill is unlikely to pass without a fight. The magnitude of the opposition to the bill will be the next big test of whether law enforcement still resists science.