NFSTC: Advancing Forensic Science Since 1995
In 1995, members of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) realized the need for an organization with a focus on elevating the quality and consistency of forensic services in our nation’s crime laboratories. Out of that realization was born the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC), a nonprofit organization with one staff person, $1500 and a charge to ‘do good things’ for the industry. Offices for NFSTC were established at St. Petersburg College, in St. Petersburg, Florida. The early years were focused on laying the groundwork for future programs.
In 1999, NFSTC received congressional earmark funding and, working closely with the Office of Science and Technology, a division of the National Institute of Justice, through a Cooperative Agreement dramatically expanded forensic products and services at no cost to all publicly funded crime laboratories in the U.S. With funding through this agreement, NFSTC relocated its offices in May 2000 to the Pinellas STAR Center in Largo, Florida, where it remains today.
Performance Level Auditing offered 9 times on a regional basis to train laboratory staff to become internal auditors. As an extension of the project, NFSTC led the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in its preparation to apply for ASCLD/LAB accreditation in under 12 months. This project laid the groundwork for the Quality Documents Program and the “Laboratory Auditing and Accreditation” computer-based workshop (NCJRS Document #193750). (Cooperative Agreement Award #2000-RC-CX-K001)
The fledgling organization was supported by dozens of off-site consultants who focused mainly on performing fee-for-service laboratory auditing projects for the unit referred to as Forensic Quality Services (FQS). In 2003, FQS emerged as a stand-alone, not-for-profit corporation, independent of NFSTC. FQS was acquired by ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board in 2012 and continues to serve laboratories nationwide. (http://fqsforensics.org/)
NIJ recognized a need for DNA laboratory audits at no charge to public crime labs. In 2002, NFSTC was tasked with developing a program to offer these services nationwide.
In the ensuing years, NFSTC competed for and won a number of NIJ training and program awards both as a stand-alone provider and in partnership with other forensic science associations and organizations. NFSTC is inclusive and partner-driven, working closely with other organizations including ASCLD, the American Board of Criminalists (ABC), Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE), and International Association for Identification (IAI). NFSTC was also instrumental in the creation of the Association of Forensic Quality Assurance Managers (AFQAM).
- 2002-2003 – ASCLD Conference Support ($500K), mission-oriented partnership to increase participation with laboratory professionals
- 2003-2006 – AFTE training partnership (Award #2000-RC-CX-K001)
- 2004 – Development of training for President’s DNA Initiative (Award #2000-RC-CX-K009)
As the DNA Audit program grew in effectiveness and popularity, biennial assessments of NIJ grants were added. (Award #2004-DN-BX-0079)
In September 2007, NFSTC applied through competitive bid and was honored to be named host/operator of the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) by the Office of Justice Programs—National Institute of Justice (OJP-NIJ). The FTCoE hit its stride in 2008, providing coordinated services and knowledge to the industry through the partner organizations:
- National Forensic Science Technology Center
- Marshall University Forensic Science Center
- National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law
- National Center for Forensic Science
- Midwest Forensics Resource Center
Technology Evaluations, DNA/Grant Progress Assessments, NCSTL Database, Y-STR Database, NIJ Expert System Test-bed, Technology Transition Workshops and Process Mapping (FTCoE: 2007-MU-BX-K008)
NFSTC has also significantly expanded its relationship with the defense and homeland security communities. In August 2008, the organization was a key participant in a maritime homeland security exercise, utilizing a deployable forensic lab developed in partnership with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). In 2009, NFSTC provided site exploitation training to military service members that could prove crucial for protecting the homeland from terrorist threats and for developing actionable intelligence on the battlefield.
- National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs): Developed and managed a national, publicly accessible online system featuring searchable information for missing and unidentified cases. (2007-IJ-CX-K023)
- Biological Screening Workshops: Delivered biological sample screening training targeted to crime scene examiners. (FY08_NIJ_14-5100)
- Crime Scene Investigation: Developed and delivered a forensic training program to prepare crime scene examiners for various certifications. (FY08_NIJ_16-5300)
- Pattern Evidence Training: Developed and delivered a Latent Print training program to prepare pattern evidence examiners for certification. (FY08_NIJ_17-5400)
- The Forensic Information Data Exchange (FIDEX): Developed this new model, based on the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), to facilitate the sharing of forensic data between law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories, and the courts. (FY08_NIJ_18-5600)
- Michigan Technical Assistance: Working in partnership with BJA, NFSTC assisted the Michigan State Police by providing forensic training and technical assistance in project management, coordination, planning, implementation and oversight. (FY09_BJA_19-6020)
- Medical Examiner/Coroner Death Investigation: Provide forensic training for medical examiners and coroners to reduce the impact and drain on resources that providing this training can have on public crime laboratories. (FY09_NIJ_21-6260)
- Pattern Evidence Training: Develop and deliver a Footwear/Tire Track and Ten Print training program to prepare pattern evidence examiners for certification testing. (FY09_NIJ_22-6270)
Among its projects, NFSTC has served many forensic specialty areas by coordinating and hosting professional meetings including the 2010 Pattern Evidence Symposium, 2009 and 2010 Applied Technology Conferences, 2009 Trace Evidence Symposium, 2009 Homicide Investigation Symposium, 2009 DNA Grantee Summit and others. A full list of projects is available on request. These meetings are accessible online at projects.nfstc.org.
In September 2010, NFSTC announced the formation of the Forensic Innovation Center (FIC), a for-profit enterprise created to redefine forensic intelligence services and centralize innovative direction for the industry. Establishing the FIC allowed NFSTC to retain mission focus and integrity; the FIC now takes on tasks and projects that are beyond the scope of the nonprofit. The FIC is a subsidiary of NFSTC, with Training Team Solutions and Forensic Knowledge Partnership, Inc., as corporate partners.
As the NIJ Grant Progress Assessment program continued to evolve, the program was suspended on September 30, 2011. NFSTC closed the program after 6 years, having reviewed more than 2,300 NIJ awards exceeding $1 billion in Federal funding and serving crime laboratories across the U.S. to help them meet their grant performance goals. NIJ has funded the continuation of free DNA audits to laboratories through September 30, 2012.
NFSTC completed activities in the Namus program in 2011, having designed, built and operated the project from its inception. In addition, NFSTC completed operations under the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence in 2011.
Scientists at NFSTC continue to provide training, support and technology evaluations for agencies and laboratories across the country. In addition, NFSTC provides similar services for a variety of Department of Defense customers, private laboratories and corporations.
NFSTC strives to serve all stakeholders with timely, necessary services to improve the practice and quality of forensic science at every level.