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Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy Elana Tyrangiel Speaks
at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting


Washington, DC
United States

Good afternoon. My name is Elana Tyrangiel, and I am the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. It’s a pleasure to be here, and a privilege to join with my colleague Dr. Patrick Gallagher, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology—and so many other critical partners and leaders—for the Academy’s annual meeting.

We would like to thank the American Academy of Forensic Sciences for hosting this important forum, and the upcoming panel for inviting us to appear before you all to discuss our latest efforts to strengthen and enhance the practice of forensic science.

Scientifically valid and accurate forensic analysis strengthens all aspects of our justice system. Most of us in this room have witnessed firsthand how forensic analysis can provide powerful and vital tools to identify perpetrators, to free others from suspicion, to convict the guilty, and to exonerate the innocent. Although, thanks to the tireless work of federal, state, and local leaders, there has been meaningful and measurable progress in advancing science and its application to the legal system, we must continually seek to improve the practice of forensic science.

That’s why the Justice Department and NIST have come together to create a new initiative that aims to coordinate standards setting in the forensic sciences, to reduce fragmentation, and to bring together key stakeholders at every level to advise the Attorney General on forensic science policy.

The initiative has two primary components: a National Commission on Forensic Science co-chaired by the Department of Justice and NIST, and NIST-administered, discipline-specific, guidance groups. I will speak first about the role of the Commission, and then I will turn it over to Pat to speak about NIST’s perspective and the role of the NIST-administered guidance groups before we clear the stage for the originally-scheduled panel.

The National Commission on Forensic Science will draw upon the experience of approximately 30 federal, state, and local forensic science service providers, academic researchers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and community leaders—selected by the Attorney General in consultation with NIST and the co-chairs. Its duties will include recommending priorities for standards development; reviewing guidance identified or developed by subject-matter experts; and developing recommendations on policy issues like minimum requirements for training, proficiency testing, or accreditation.

The Attorney General will consider the Commission’s recommendations and decide whether to endorse standards or guidance for implementation in Department of Justice forensic science laboratories and/or strongly encourage adoption by other federal, state, and local laboratories or units. Even if the Attorney General decides not to endorse a standard or other guidance document—that document will still be publically available for voluntary adoption by any federal, state, or local forensic science laboratory.

Aspects of this structure may sound familiar to you. We are fully cognizant of various efforts to help improve forensic sciences, including on the legislative front. In particular, we would like to recognize Senator Leahy’s strong leadership in this area—and we appreciate his support of this initiative.

It’s important to note, that our initiative does not preclude future legislative actions – and it will not displace the important work that many forensic science stakeholders are doing, such as conducting foundational research at government agencies and universities around the country.

In fact, this initiative constitutes a significant step forward in fostering increased levels of engagement with these partners and with Congress, in establishing a productive partnership between the Department of Justice and NIST, and in strengthening our ability to realize the goals and priorities that we all share.

I now turn it over to Pat to talk to you about NIST’s role in this initiative.

Updated September 17, 2014