The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB)—Nearly 25 Years of Aiding Organizations That Certify Forensic Scientists to Improve and Conform to International Standards

Source: David N. Khey, PhD, FSAB President; Ann W. Bunch, PhD, FSAB Past President

The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) was established in 1996 with grant assistance from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in an effort to develop and apply consistent, objective, and quality assessment standards for forensic certification boards (also known as Conformity Assessment Bodies, or CABs). A subsequent push to formalize the FSAB as an independent non-profit is directly rooted in the concerns outlined in the landmark 2009 assessment of the forensic sciences, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).1 Specifically, this report highlights the lack of both comprehensive accreditation and certification systems throughout the forensic sciences. When most forensic professionals thought of accreditation, they tended to think laboratory accreditation and not of the boards that certify them in their particular craft of, say, toxicology, forensic document examination, firearms and toolmark analysis, arson investigation, and digital forensics. This is also clear in the literature — the volume of scholarship dedicated to certification far exceeds accreditation, with the majority of mentions of accreditation having a sole focus on laboratories. Accreditation is far more pervasive in industry and has yet not saturated fully into the forensic sciences.

In the aftermath of the NAS Report, AAFS recognized that a critical aspect of professional oversight is monitoring the quality and consistency of credentialing of forensic specialists by the various forensic boards; in other words, providing accreditation to the certifiers. The Board was formed to develop a voluntary program to objectively assess, recognize, and monitor the various forensic specialty boards that seek accreditation. Since the very beginning, the Board has taken a "for us, by us" approach to providing accreditation services to certification boards and is led by titans of various forensic science disciplines (several past Presidents of AAFS, including Bruce Goldberger, Carol Henderson, Ken Melson, and Marina Stajic).Further, the FSAB is the only accreditation body in the world staffed with a transdisciplinary array of forensic scientists and their traditional affiliates (such as members of the General and Jurisprudence sections of the AAFS). Thus, the exclusive function of the FSAB is to assess forensic CABs as a third party, which is the highest standard that a CAB can seek/obtain since it is conducted by a disinterested, neutral, outside entity. As Bunch, Bohan, and Senn point out, all high-quality, internationally recognized accreditation firms conform to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. Yet, unlike traditional firms that provide these services, "the FSAB determined that the lack of relevant expertise in the forensic disciplines and in the practices of forensic specialties of the existing accreditation organizations called for the existence of an independent accrediting body that had a comprehensive, historical, and technical understanding of the disciplines involved in forensic specialties and the contexts in which they perform their duties. The FSAB is uniquely positioned to provide accreditation to forensic specialty CABs since it is comprised of forensic practitioners and public directors (e.g., educators, attorneys) who are familiar with forensic specialty practices, standards and trends."2

Beginning in 2012, the FSAB began the work of aligning its own standards with international standards (ISO/IEC 17024) so that CABs accredited by the FSAB would themselves be in conformity with the highest global standards. These new standards have been in effect for three years. The ten CABs that are currently accredited by FSAB should be proud of this accomplishment.

FSAB Directors believe that our expectations of CABs should also be expected of ourselves. Since there exists no third-party assessment available for accreditation bodies, the FSAB began the work to bring itself in conformity with ISO/IEC 17011, the international standard for accreditation bodies. At the time of this writing, the FSAB is working with an independent auditor to develop a comprehensive report on its ability to self-declare conformity with ISO/IEC 17011. In addition, the FSAB is modernizing its application process, building pathways to accept electronic payment, and expanding its outreach capabilities.

At the 2024 Denver conference of the AAFS, FSAB Directors are coordinating with Section leadership to inform members of these developments and educate stakeholders on why accreditation matters. Members will hear first-hand of the benefits of accreditation to help CABs continually improve their testing protocols, in aiding to eliminate potential threats of bias or conflicts of interest, and to promote consistent adherence to internationally recognized best practices.

1. National Research Council.  National Academy of Sciences. Strengthening forensic science in the United States: a path forward, committee on identifying the needs of the forensic sciences community: committee on applied and theoretical statistics. Washington, DC: National Research Council. National Academy of Sciences, 2009.
2. Bunch, A. W., Bohan, T., & Senn, D. Accreditation of forensic specialty certification bodies. Forensic Science Policy & Management: An International Journal 2017; 8(1-2), 22-25.


The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.