Scientific Working Group on
DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM)
History of SWGDAM
The predecessor group of SWGDAM, the Technical Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (TWGDAM), held their first meeting in November 1988, as forensic DNA technology was introduced in the United States. This first meeting was hosted by the FBI Laboratory and included 31 scientists representing 16 forensic laboratories in the United States and Canada. This first meeting was designed to bring together those scientists who were engaged in validating this new technology to share protocols and establish guidelines, where appropriate. A subcommittee was formed to work on suggested guidelines for laboratories conducting restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) DNA analysis. These guidelines were published in the April-July 1989 issue of the Crime Laboratory Digest (see Vol.16, No. 2, pages 40-59; see also Crime Laboratory Digest Vol. 18, No. 2, April 1991).
TWGDAM continued to provide a level of direction to the forensic DNA community by issuing guidelines for a DNA proficiency testing program and later for the newer DNA technology of polymerase chain reaction (PCR). See Guidelines for a Proficiency Testing Program for DNA Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Analysis, Crime Laboratory Digest, Vol. 17, No. 3, pages 59-64, (July 1990); Guidelines for a Quality Assurance Program for DNA Analysis, Crime Laboratory Digest, Vol. 18, No. 2, (April 1991). Additional revisions were adopted in 1995; see Guidelines for a Quality Assurance Program for DNA Analysis, Crime Laboratory Digest, Vol. 22, No. 2 (April 1995).
The forensic DNA community followed these guidelines when implementing their DNA programs. As a result, the guidelines became de facto standards and were recognized by courts as minimum requirements for a quality forensic DNA analysis program. See, for example, State v. Schwartz, 447 N.W. 2d 422 (Minn. 1989) (recognizing the TWGDAM Guidelines as standards for the reliability of the RFLP DNA testing).
Federal legislation authorizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to establish a National DNA Index System also authorized the creation of the Federal DNA Advisory Board. This same legislation recognized the TWGDAM Guidelines and required that they be followed as the national standards until the FBI Director approved quality assurance standards for forensic DNA analysis. See 42 U.S.C. ' 14131. The Federal DNA Advisory Board was responsible for recommending quality assurance standards, and revisions as necessary, to the FBI Director and when their statutory time period expired, they charged SWGDAM with this responsibility.
In an effort to capture demographic information regarding representation across the law enforcement community, SWGDAM has conducted surveys at recent meetings that are available for review using the following links: 2014 Participation Survey , 2016 Participation Survey, and 2018 Participation Survey .
Beginning with the development or/and revision of its next draft guidance document(s), SWGDAM will make a “Draft for Comment” or other work product available for the purpose of receiving comments from the general public. This “Draft for Comment” solicitation will be open for a minimum of 30 days, usually through SWGDAM.org.
SWGDAM will make all reasonable efforts to advise the forensic DNA community of the open comment period for a proposed guidance document or standard, guideline, best practice, study, or other recommendation and/or finding via as many avenues as possible to include posting notices through discipline-specific and related professional organizations. SWGDAM strongly encourages all interested parties to regularly monitor SWGDAM.org for the posting of such draft documents as well. All public comments received by SWGDAM will forwarded to the appropriate SWGDAM Committee for review and consideration as a part of its formal business practice for the development of the guidance documents or other work product.
SWGDAM is governed by formal bylaws that describe our responsibilities, membership, Executive Board, Committees, Meetings, and Conduct of Business. The Chairman of SWGDAM is selected and serves at the pleasure of the Director of the FBI’s Laboratory Division. SWGDAM members are appointed by the Chairman based upon recommendations from a Nominating Committee and representation is sought from Federal, State and Local forensic DNA laboratories and the various geographic regions within the country. Executive Board members are elected by the SWGDAM membership. The Vice Chairman of SWGDAM is appointed by the Chair. Invited Guests, representing international organizations or laboratories, academia, and accrediting agencies, attend meetings and participate in Committee meetings as well. The group meets each January and July to address issues of importance to the DNA community (ranging from familial searches, partial matches, recent court cases, audit issues, kits and reagents, etc.). When possible, SWGDAM also holds a public meeting for the DNA community each year to provide updates on the work of the Committees, quality assurance standards, audit documents, etc. For many years, these public meetings were held prior to the International Symposia on Human Identification sponsored by the Promega Corporation. Beginning in 2006, the SWGDAM public meetings have been held in conjunction with the FBI sponsored Annual CODIS Conferences.
SWGDAM has had several standing Committees in the past for the subject areas of CODIS, Missing Persons, MtDNA and Quality Assurance. As issues arise within the DNA community, Committees are formed and assigned specific objectives. Their final work products are shared with the public and DNA community at the public meetings and through published articles.
Please click here for more information on the activities of SWGDAM today.
SWGDAM and the FBI’s Quality Assurance Standards
One of SWGDAM’s most important responsibilities is the recommendation of revisions to the FBI’s Quality Assurance Standards (QAS) for DNA Analysis. Adherence to these QAS is required by Federal law as a condition of a laboratory’s participation in the National DNA Index System.
The Federal DNA Identification Act provides, in pertinent part, “the index described in subsection (a) shall include only information on DNA identification records and DNA analyses that are-- (1) based on analyses performed by or on behalf of a criminal justice agency in accordance with publicly available standards that satisfy or exceed the guidelines for a quality assurance program for DNA analysis, issued by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under section 210303;” see 42 U.S.C. ' 14132(b)(1).
The SWGDAM Quality Assurance Committee is the principle group tasked with drafting revisions to the original QAS. Since issuance of the original QAS, advancements in science and the introduction of additional technologies (such as mtDNA and Y-STRs) necessitated changes in the original standards. Many of these past revisions have clarified or strengthened existing Standards in the area of education, training and continuing education of the DNA personnel. As new revisions are proposed by SWGDAM they are discussed at SWGDAM public meetings and laboratories performing forensic DNA analysis are given the opportunity to comment. Accrediting agencies and their constituencies are also provided the opportunity to comment on any proposed revisions. Proposed revisions for the QAS have been approved by SWGDAM in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2020 and forwarded to the FBI Director for his consideration. The FBI Director approved the current Forensic and DNA Databasing QAS and issued them with an effective date of July 1, 2020 and they are available at the FBI’s web site at http://www.fbi.gov/hq/lab/html/codis1.htm. To ensure the consistency of application of the QAS, the Committee also revised the FBI QAS Audit Document for use in conducting audits for compliance with these Standards. The Forensic and Databasing QAS Audit Documents approved by SWGDAM and issued by the FBI are also available at the FBI’s web site at http://www.fbi.gov/hq/lab/html/codis1.htm.
For more information on the history of SWGDAM, please see the January 2013 SWGDAM History or the July 2015 TWGDAM/SWGDAM History. For more information on the history of the FBI's Quality Assurance Standards, please click here.