Accreditation, Certification, and Compliance for Forensic Laboratories and Practitioners

Accreditation, Certification, and Compliance for Forensic Laboratories and Practitioners

A posting on an industry web site asks, “Accreditation or Certification – Which Do I Need?” as the lead in for a panel discussion at a user conference.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “need” as 1. a necessary duty (obligation) 2. a lack of something requisite, desirable or useful.”

Which requires us to ask the question, are accreditation and certification necessary? Are they requisite, desirable, or useful? The question, as written, seems to presuppose an answer.

On November 22, 2005, the Science, State, Justice, Commerce, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2006 became law. Under the terms of the statute, Congress authorized “the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on forensic science, as described in the Senate report.”

In 2009, the National Academies Press published Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (aka, the NAS Report). The report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.

On page 208 of the NAS Report, the authors address the issue of certification.

The certification of individuals complements the accreditation of laboratories for a total quality assurance program. In other realms of science and technology, professionals, including nurses, physicians, professional engineers, and some laboratorians, typically must be certified before they can practice. The same should be true for forensic scientists who practice and testify. Although the accreditation process primarily addresses the management system, technical methods, and quality of the work of a laboratory (which includes the education and training of staff), certification is a process specifically designed to ensure the competency of the individual examiner.

The NAS Report goes on to note, “In addition to improving quality, certification programs can enhance the credibility of certificate holders.” … “In essence, ‘certification’ usually means that a particular individual has completed a defined course of education, training, and experience, and has passed an examination prepared by peers which demonstrates that the individual has obtained at least the minimum level of competence required to practice the specific discipline.

Individual analysts will have questions about the many certificate programs that exist in multimedia forensics. Chief among these questions will necessarily be, “how much and who pays?” We can help navigate these questions for the analysts.

The NAS Report’s #1 Recommendation (pg 81), notes:

  • (a) establishing and enforcing best practices for forensic science professionals and laboratories;
  • (b) establishing standards for the mandatory accreditation of forensic science laboratories and the mandatory certification of forensic scientists and medical examiners/forensic pathologists—and identifying the entity/entities that will develop and implement accreditation and certification;

The number one priority for this group was, and is, the establishment and enforcement of best practices (this is where the OSAC comes in) as well as mandatory certification of analysts / examiners and mandatory accreditation of laboratories. You might not think of your office and cubicle as a “laboratory.” You might not wear a white lab coat. Nevertheless, your work as an analyst is done in a lab, even if it’s not named as such.

If you’d like to know more, we offer comprehensive training / education and consulting on this topic. Check our our calendar for upcoming classes and sign up today. Don’t see a date that works for you, suggest one … or have us come to your location.