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Scientific Working Groups by Adams and Lothridge (Forensic Science Communications, July 2000)

Scientific Working Groups by Adams and Lothridge (Forensic Science Communications, July 2000)

July 2000 - Volume 2 - Number 3

Scientific Working Groups

Dwight E. Adams
Deputy Assistant Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, DC

Kevin L. Lothridge
Director of Strategic Development
National Forensic Science Technology Center
Largo, Florida


Since the early 1990s, the FBI Laboratory has led the way in sponsoring Scientific Working Groups (SWG) to improve discipline practices and build consensus with our federal, state, and local forensic community partners. Currently, the FBI Laboratory sponsors eight SWGs:


SWGDE—Digital Evidence

SWGDOC—Questioned Documents

SWGFAST—Latent Fingerprints

SWGGUN—Firearms and Toolmarks

SWGIBRA—Illicit Business Records

SWGIT—Imaging Technologies


In early 1998, the FBI Laboratory performed a strategic review of all SWGs. This review determined the need for administrative and web-based support for the entire SWG effort. To achieve this, the FBI Laboratory has worked collaboratively with the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC). The NFSTC has provided assistance with the following:

  • Developing and implementing optimal business processes that will establish and maintain consistency in SWG organization, life cycle, and business processes.
  • Establishing mechanisms that ensure laboratory management’s strong commitment and support for personnel participating in and contributing to the SWGs.
  • Establishing an infrastructure for effective communication within and among SWGs and the national and international forensic communities.
  • Conducting studies on alternate models to increase awareness, improve effectiveness, and reduce costs.

In response to this set of tasks the following have been developed:

  • A website that all SWGs and the community may use for communication and information, and
  • Operational bylaws for all FBI-sponsored SWGs.

Scientific Working Group Bylaws

The establishment, constitution, and goals of a Scientific Working Group (SWG) are a matter of the needs of the particular scientific discipline and professional expertise. Bylaws are required to effectively implement and execute the deliberations of SWGs, and it is important that each SWG develop written bylaws for operation. Although not every SWG can or should be covered by preset standardized rules, certain standards of performance that are common to all SWGs are necessary. The following bylaws provide a framework within which each SWG should operate:

Section 1. Name and Objectives

a. A name for the SWG shall be established.

b. The general purpose and functions of the SWG shall be established.

Section 2. Membership

a. An official membership roster shall be documented.

b. A process for nominating and selecting new members shall be established.

c. Term of membership shall be established.

d. Termination and resignation procedures shall be established.

e. A process for inviting visitors (i.e., non-members) to attend meetings shall be established.

f. An ASCLD representative shall be allowed to attend SWG meetings.

Section 3. Officers and Duties

a. Officers of the SWG shall include the Chair, a Vice-Chair, and Chairs of subcommittee working groups.

b. The duties of the officers shall be described.

c. Nomination, selection processes, and terms of the officers shall be established.

d. Termination and resignation procedures shall be established.

e. A process for filling vacancies shall be established.

f. A secretary for recording minutes shall be selected.

Section 4. Meetings

a. A SWG shall have a minimum of one meeting per year.

b. Meeting dates shall be posted on the NFSTC-managed website and, if possible, in Forensic Science Communications at least 30 days prior to a meeting date.

Section 5. Subcommittee Working Groups

a. A process for establishing subcommittees shall be implemented.

b. The goals of the subcommittees shall be clearly defined.

Section 6. Process for Approval of Guidelines or Recommendations

a. A mechanism shall be implemented to gain input from non-members of the SWG.

i. When appropriate, draft documents shall be placed on the NFSTC-managed website at least 60 days prior to the SWG meeting at which finalization of the document will occur; and/or

ii. When appropriate, draft documents shall be presented in an open forum; and/or

iii. Mailings, either electronic or hard copy, shall be sent to all recognized government crime laboratories routinely practicing the particular discipline at least 60 days prior to the SWG meeting at which finalization of the document will occur.

b. A mechanism for receiving commentary from non-members shall be established.

c. A process for approving Guidelines or Recommendations shall be established.

d. Approved Guidelines shall be published in Forensic Science Communications or other appropriate journals.

e. A process for changes to existing Guidelines shall be implemented.

Section 7. Amendments to the Bylaws

a. A procedure for amending bylaws shall be implemented.

These foundations for the organizational and administrative processes of all SWGs will enhance the practices of peer consensus building and information exchange throughout the forensic science community. This infrastructure will enable the SWGs to establish guidelines and address new issues consistently and effectively well into the future.