At the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the Willis and Willingham cases involved arson, which is not an ASCLD/LAB accredited discipline. But more recent cases demonstrate why the TX FSC and ASCLD/LAB may end up butting heads in some instances, perhaps sooner than later, over the same issues identified in New York.
The best example may lie in the FSC's investigation of the controlled substances division at the El Paso crime lab. At their January meeting, serious unresolved concerns were raised about the lab and the commission initiated a detailed investigation with the help of the Department of Public Safety. I've uploaded a copy of the letter sent to the EPPD crime lab detailing the extensive checks they demanded be run to ensure the problems had been solved. These included hiring a qualified lab director, retesting all lab work performed since November 2011, and retesting ALL the work ever performed by an analyst found to be incompetent to perform the job, "giving priority to the 60 cases on the DPS list with the greatest possible impact."
The El Paso crime lab was accredited under "legacy" provisions by ASCLD/LAB, meaning they didn't have to meet every last requirement for their initial accreditation. However in April their "legacy" status runs out and the El Paso lab must meet much more rigorous ISO standards or risk losing their accreditation altogether. Ironically, in that light, it came out at the FSC's January meeting that ASCLD/LAB had lifted the probationary status of El Paso's controlled substances division, despite all the looming questions remaining about their competence, lack of leadership, and apparent ill-preparedness to meet the new standards required of them next month. As Grits reported in January:
while most of the media attention has focused on a single lab worker who couldn't pass basic competency tests, Commissioner Sarah Kerrigan, to the nodding affirmation of her peers, strongly urged that that lab worker not be used as a "scapegoat" to avoid bigger changes. When the El Paso lab began its certification process in 2006, the accrediting body found a list of shortcomings they asked them to fix, and which the lab claimed to have resolved. In 2011, though, when the incompetent lab worker came to light, a new assessment identified virtually all the same problems at the lab, still unresolved, that were cited in 2006.A representative of ASCLD/LAB told the commission that lifting probation didn't mean all the lab's shortcomings have been rectified, which left everyone in the room wondering exactly what it did mean. Looking at the FSC letter detailing the oversight which still hadn't been performed when the lab's probation was lifted, one wonders what regulatory benefit, precisely, that ASCLD/LAB is providing and whether it really has any teeth.
Texas is one of only a few states that requires accreditation of its crime labs, and certainly having some standards to follow is better than flying blind. But standards unenforced are mere suggestions, and it's unclear what besides suggesting the accrediting body does when the labs it regulates don't follow its rules. If the FSC becomes the primary entity regularly performing meaningful crime-lab oversight, it will create a lasting, important role for the commission, particularly over the next decade or so as Texas and the rest of country struggle to correct deficiencies in what has historically passed for forensic science in the courtroom.
The Texas Forensic Science Commission - which at times during the Willlingham/Willis saga seemed to struggle to define its mission - appears to be hitting its stride now that the Culture War circus has left town, they have a chair who actually wants the agency to succeed, and they've found a role to play that the crime labs' accrediting body seems unable or unwilling to embrace.