somebody doing something

While You’re At It Lavach…

I found another couple of things that need some explanation from Elizabeth Lavach, the lobbyist for the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations.

The Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO) is a lobbying group that purports to “speak with a single forensic science voice” in representing “forensic science professionals across the United States.”

The CFSO consists of the following organizations:

  • The American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD)
  • The American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB)
  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
  • National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME)
  • International Association for Identification (IAI)
  • Society of Forensic Toxicology (SOFT)/American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT)

Beth Lavach is the lobbyist of the CFSO.

The CFSO used to include Forensic Quality Services (FQS), the crime lab accreditation body created by the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC). FQS withdrew from the CFSO just ahead of being acquired by ANSI in late 2011.

Most of the member organizations of the CFSO are also member organizations of the NFSTC, which was connected to ICx Technologies, Inc. through the NFSTC’s new for-profit organization, the Forensic Innovation Center (FIC).

ICx Technologies was the company for which Beth Lavach kept filing lobbying disclosures until the fourth quarter of 2011 claiming that she was their lobbyist, even though the company ceased to exist on October 5, 2010.

Problem is… FLIR Systems, Inc., the company that bought ICx, doesn’t appear to have used any lobbyists outside their own in-house lobbyists during the year Lavach claims to have lobbied for ICx.

And, after I outed her and she still had to account for the supposed FLIR/ICx income, Lavach claimed she was paid $40,000 for doing nothing (a “No Lobbying Issue Activity” filing). I haven’t found any instance of FLIR paying a lobbyist something to do nothing.

While there are a couple of other things that are questionable in Beth Lavach’s client list, let’s just stick with one.

BRS Labs

In October 2009, Beth Lavach registered as the lobbyist for a company called Behavioral Recognition Systems, Inc. Lavach registered her client as BRS Labs. That means Lavach registered as taking in income for the quarter ending September 30, 2009.

Lavach filed a termination report, indicating that her lobbying services for BRS Labs were ending on January 16, 2012, the day after she filed the termination report for ICx Technologies.

That’s about two and a half years worth of lobbying that Lavach was paid for through BRS Labs.

Lavach collected a total of $165,527 through her BRS Labs lobbying disclosures during the time she claimed to be working for that company.

However… every filing disclosure indicates that Lavach never- ever – lobbied for BRS Labs. She just used the lobbying disclosures to account for income she collected.

Let me explain how that works.

Beth Lavach is a lobbyist. Beth Lavach has to account for the income she receives. The numbers on the lobbying disclosures Beth Lavach files with Congress need to match up pretty closely with the numbers Lavach files with the IRS. So…

Lavach files lobbying disclosures saying that she is getting paid to lobby for a company called BRS Labs. Except she’s not lobbying for them. She’s just getting paid.

Lavach registered to lobby on behalf of BRS Labs about eight months after the NAS Report had been released. The NAS Report (Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward) was released in February 2009, much to the dismay of the member organizations of the CFSO.

Just to review, the NAS Report was the result of the efforts of the CFSO to have the federal government assess “the needs” of forensic science (AKA the needs of the leaders of the members of the CFSO). I think it is safe to say that the member organizations of the CFSO did not expect the NAS Report to say this (the full, actual NAS Report Recommendations).

So, the members of the CFSO needed to fix that.

It could be coincidence that Lavach began getting paid to do nothing for BRS Labs around the time the CFSO began working overtime to undo the damage done by the NAS Report.

Maybe Beth Lavach actually was paid more than $150,000 to do nothing on behalf of a fledgling technology company that felt like burning money.

But I’m going to go with “doubtful.”

I have always thought it odd that Beth Lavach devoted so much of her time to the CFSO, which is officially one of her lowest paying clients. Out of Lavach’s approximately $500,000 yearly income, the CFSO has traditionally only accounted for about $45,000.

Maybe one day we’ll get some answers about what is going on with all this.

Until then, here- again- are the full NAS Report Recommendations. As Dr. Marcella Fierro, one of the members of the committee who wrote the report, said during a presentation on the report at the recent American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Atlanta (paraphrasing): it’s written in plain English for a reason. Read it.

Recommendations of the NAS Report,
Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward

Recommendation 1:

To promote the development of forensic science into a mature field of multidisciplinary research and practice, founded on the systematic collection and analysis of relevant data, Congress should establish and appropriate funds for an independent federal entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS). NIFS should have a full-time administrator and an advisory board with expertise in research and education, the forensic science disciplines, physical and life sciences, forensic pathology, engineering, information technology, measurements and standards, testing and evaluation, law, national security, and public policy. NIFS should focus on:

  1. establishing and enforcing best practices for forensic science professionals and laboratories;
  2. 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;
  3. promoting scholarly, competitive peer-reviewed research and technical development in the forensic science disciplines and forensic medicine;
  4. developing a strategy to improve forensic science research and educational programs, including forensic pathology;
  5. establishing a strategy, based on accurate data on the forensic science community, for the efficient allocation of available funds to give strong support to forensic methodologies and practices in addition to DNA analysis;
  6. funding state and local forensic science agencies, independent research projects, and educational programs as recommended in this report, with conditions that aim to advance the credibility and reliability of the forensic science disciplines;
  7. overseeing education standards and the accreditation of forensic science programs in colleges and universities;
  8. developing programs to improve understanding of the forensic science disciplines and their limitations within legal systems; and
  9. assessing the development and introduction of new technologies in forensic investigations, including a comparison of new technologies with former ones.

Recommendation 2:

The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), after reviewing established standards such as ISO 17025, and in consultation with its advisory board, should establish standard terminology to be used in reporting on and testifying about the results of forensic science investigations. Similarly, it should establish model laboratory reports for different forensic science disciplines and specify the minimum information that should be included. As part of the accreditation and certification processes, laboratories and forensic scientists should be required to utilize model laboratory reports when summarizing the results of their analyses.

Recommendation 3:

Research is needed to address issues of accuracy, reliability, and validity in the forensic science disciplines. The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) should competitively fund peer-reviewed research in the following areas:

  1. Studies establishing the scientific bases demonstrating the validity of forensic methods.
  2. The development and establishment of quantifiable measures of the reliability and accuracy of forensic analyses. Studies of the reliability and accuracy of forensic techniques should reflect actual practice on realistic case scenarios, averaged across a representative sample of forensic scientists and laboratories. Studies also should establish the limits of reliability and accuracy that analytic methods can be expected to achieve as the conditions of forensic evidence vary. The research by which measures of reliability and accuracy are determined should be peer reviewed and published in respected scientific journals.
  3. The development of quantifiable measures of uncertainty in the conclusions of forensic analyses.
  4. Automated techniques capable of enhancing forensic technologies.

Recommendation 4:

To improve the scientific bases of forensic science examinations and to maximize independence from or autonomy within the law enforcement community, Congress should authorize and appropriate incentive funds to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) for allocation to state and local jurisdictions for the purpose of removing all public forensic laboratories and facilities from the administrative control of law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices.

Recommendation 5:

The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) should encourage research programs on human observer bias and sources of human error in forensic examinations. Such programs might include studies to determine the effects of contextual bias in forensic practice (e.g., studies to determine whether and to what extent the results of forensic analyses are influenced by knowledge regarding the background of the suspect and the investigator’s theory of the case). In addition, research on sources of human error should be closely linked with research conducted to quantify and characterize the amount of error. Based on the results of these studies, and in consultation with its advisory board, NIFS should develop standard operating procedures (that will lay the foundation for model protocols) to minimize, to the greatest extent reasonably possible, potential bias and sources of human error in forensic practice. These standard operating procedures should apply to all forensic analyses that may be used in litigation.

Recommendation 6:

To facilitate the work of the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), Congress should authorize and appropriate funds to NIFS to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in conjunction with government laboratories, universities, and private laboratories, and in consultation with Scientific Working Groups, to develop tools for advancing measurement, validation, reliability, information sharing, and proficiency testing in forensic science and to establish protocols for forensic examinations, methods, and practices. Standards should reflect best practices and serve as accreditation tools for laboratories and as guides for the education, training, and certification of professionals. Upon completion of its work, NIST and its partners should report findings and recommendations to NIFS for further dissemination and implementation.

Recommendation 7:

Laboratory accreditation and individual certification of forensic science professionals should be mandatory, and all forensic science professionals should have access to a certification process. In determining appropriate standards for accreditation and certification, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) should take into account established and recognized international standards, such as those published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). No person (public or private) should be allowed to practice in a forensic science discipline or testify as a forensic science professional without certification. Certification requirements should include, at a minimum, written examinations, supervised practice, proficiency testing, continuing education, recertification procedures, adherence to a code of ethics, and effective disciplinary procedures. All laboratories and facilities (public or private) should be accredited, and all forensic science professionals should be certified, when eligible, within a time period established by NIFS.

Recommendation 8:

Forensic laboratories should establish routine quality assurance and quality control procedures to ensure the accuracy of forensic analyses and the work of forensic practitioners. Quality control procedures should be designed to identify mistakes, fraud, and bias; confirm the continued validity and reliability of standard operating procedures and protocols; ensure that best practices are being followed; and correct procedures and protocols that are found to need improvement.

Recommendation 9:

The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), in consultation with its advisory board, should establish a national code of ethics for all forensic science disciplines and encourage individual societies to incorporate this national code as part of their professional code of ethics. Additionally, NIFS should explore mechanisms of enforcement for those forensic scientists who commit serious ethical violations. Such a code could be enforced through a certification process for forensic scientists.

Recommendation 10:

To attract students in the physical and life sciences to pursue graduate studies in multidisciplinary fields critical to forensic science practice, Congress should authorize and appropriate funds to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to work with appropriate organizations and educational institutions to improve and develop graduate education programs designed to cut across organizational, programmatic, and disciplinary boundaries. To make these programs appealing to potential students, they must include attractive scholarship and fellowship offerings. Emphasis should be placed on developing and improving research methods and methodologies applicable to forensic science practice and on funding research programs to attract research universities and students in fields relevant to forensic science. NIFS should also support law school administrators and judicial education organizations in establishing continuing legal education programs for law students, practitioners, and judges.

Recommendation 11:

To improve medicolegal death investigation:

  1. Congress should authorize and appropriate incentive funds to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) for allocation to states and jurisdictions to establish medical examiner systems, with the goal of replacing and eventually eliminating existing coroner systems. Funds are needed to build regional medical examiner offices, secure necessary equipment, improve administration, and ensure the education, training, and staffing of medical examiner offices. Funding could also be used to help current medical examiner systems modernize their facilities to meet current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended autopsy safety requirements.
  2. Congress should appropriate resources to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NIFS, jointly, to support research, education, and training in forensic pathology. NIH, with NIFS participation, or NIFS in collaboration with content experts, should establish a study section to establish goals, to review and evaluate proposals in these areas, and to allocate funding for collaborative research to be conducted by medical examiner offices and medical universities. In addition, funding, in the form of medical student loan forgiveness and/or fellowship support, should be made available to pathology residents who choose forensic pathology as their specialty.
  3. NIFS, in collaboration with NIH, the National Association of Medical Examiners, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, and other appropriate professional organizations, should establish a Scientific Working Group (SWG) for forensic pathology and medicolegal death investigation. The SWG should develop and promote standards for best practices, administration, staffing, education, training, and continuing education for competent death scene investigation and postmortem examinations. Best practices should include the utilization of new technologies such as laboratory testing for the molecular basis of diseases and the implementation of specialized imaging techniques.
  4. All medical examiner offices should be accredited pursuant to NIFS-endorsed standards within a timeframe to be established by NIFS.
  5. All federal funding should be restricted to accredited offices that meet NIFS-endorsed standards or that demonstrate significant and measurable progress in achieving accreditation within prescribed deadlines.
  6. All medicolegal autopsies should be performed or supervised by a board certified forensic pathologist. This requirement should take effect within a timeframe to be established by NIFS, following consultation with governing state institutions.

Recommendation 12:

Congress should authorize and appropriate funds for the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to launch a new broad-based effort to achieve nationwide fingerprint data interoperability. To that end, NIFS should convene a task force comprising relevant experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the major law enforcement agencies (including representatives from the local, state, federal, and, perhaps, international levels) and industry, as appropriate, to develop:

  1. standards for representing and communicating image and minutiae data among Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems. Common data standards would facilitate the sharing of fingerprint data among law enforcement agencies at the local, state, federal, and even international levels, which could result in more solved crimes, fewer wrongful identifications, and greater efficiency with respect to fingerprint searches; and
  2. baseline standards—to be used with computer algorithms— to map, record, and recognize features in fingerprint images, and a research agenda for the continued improvement, refinement, and characterization of the accuracy of these algorithms (including quantification of error rates).

Recommendation 13:

Congress should provide funding to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to prepare, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, forensic scientists and crime scene investigators for their potential roles in managing and analyzing evidence from events that affect homeland security, so that maximum evidentiary value is preserved from these unusual circumstances and the safety of these personnel is guarded. This preparation also should include planning and preparedness (to include exercises) for the interoperability of local forensic personnel with federal counterterrorism organizations.