ATF’s laboratories began with two scientists working in the attic of the U.S. Treasury building in 1886. More than a century later, ATF continues to provide accurate and authoritative scientific analysis of evidence in criminal investigations related to arson, explosives and firearms.
The main hub of ATF’s scientific research is the National Laboratory Center in Ammendale, Maryland, which includes the Fire Research Laboratory (FRL), National Firearms Examiner Academy (NFEA), and one of ATF’s three forensic science laboratories. The other two forensic labs are located in Atlanta, Georgia and Walnut Creek, California.
These laboratories are staffed with highly trained forensic chemists, forensic biologists, engineers, fingerprint specialists, firearm and toolmark examiners, document analysts and administrative personnel who work together to identify leads and help bring criminals to justice.
ATF also offers competitive unpaid forensic science internships for students interested in law enforcement forensic careers.
In 1984, ATF’s Laboratories became the first federal forensic laboratory system to be accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.
Currently, the four ATF laboratories are accredited by the ANSI National Accreditation Board. To qualify, all laboratories expertly demonstrated competency of testing and calibration methods set by the International Organization of Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC) 17025:2017. To maintain this accreditation, the laboratories must continuously monitor their operations and undergo periodic, comprehensive inspections by the accrediting body.
In addition to performing specialized scientific analysis, laboratory staff members routinely provide instruction to ATF special agents, inspectors, auditors, and other local, state and federal law enforcement personnel. They teach courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia and the National Center for Explosives Training and Research in Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. They also participate in ATF- and industry-sponsored seminars as well as technical and scientific symposiums throughout the country.