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Volume 90 Issue 52 | p. 33
Issue Date: December 24, 2012

Forensics, Visas, Whistle-blowers Get Attention

Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: STEM visa, immigration reform, House of Representatives, whistle-blowers, forensics, National Research Council
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Fingerprinting is one area of forensic science where more research is needed, according to forensics experts who testified at congressional hearings this year.
Credit: FBI
A photo of a law enforcement officers locating latent fingerprints on the side of a van.
 
Fingerprinting is one area of forensic science where more research is needed, according to forensics experts who testified at congressional hearings this year.
Credit: FBI

Three years ago, the National Research Council recommended a complete overhaul of the criminal forensics system in the country. But Congress just started acting on those recommendations this year.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held two hearings about the problems. In addition, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) in January and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) in July introduced legislation (S. 132 and S. 3378) aimed at reforming the system, although neither bill has moved. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) introduced in the House of Representatives companion legislation (H.R. 6106) to Rockefeller’s bill, but it also has gone nowhere.

A late split between Republicans and Democrats in the House derailed a bipartisan effort to increase the number of visas for graduates of U.S. universities with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) master’s or doctoral degrees. Both sides wanted to create 55,000 new slots for STEM workers. However, Republicans proposed eliminating a long-standing diversity visa program for immigrants from countries underrepresented in the U.S. Democrats want to keep the diversity visa program.

A bill (H.R. 6429) sponsored by Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas) that would replace the diversity visa program with new STEM visas did pass the House in December, but it stalled in the Senate.

In November, Congress completed work on, and the President signed into law, a bill that lays out new rights for government whistle-blowers, including government scientists. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The bill expands protection for federal whistle-blowers, clarifies what disclosures are protected, and sets larger penalties for violating whistle-blower rights. Important for government researchers, the law outlines specific protections for scientists who challenge censorship on reports or other publications.

 
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