The No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program

Audit Report No. 05-02
November 2004
Office of the Inspector General

Executive Summary

Forensic DNA evidence has tremendous potential to improve the criminal justice system. Use of DNA evidence has solved numerous criminal cases that could not have been solved with traditional law enforcement techniques, and in a number of cases has exonerated persons charged with or convicted of crimes they did not commit. However, DNA currently is not being used to its full potential due to several factors, including a significant backlog of cases awaiting analysis in state and local laboratories and at law enforcement agencies across the country. A report submitted to Congress by the Attorney General in April 2004 estimated that over 540,000 criminal cases with biological evidence were awaiting DNA testing in state and local laboratories and at law enforcement agencies.1 Those cases include 52,000 homicides and 169,000 sexual assaults.

To aid in reducing this casework backlog, the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs (OJP), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), developed and is administering the No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program (Program), which provides funding to state laboratories. The purpose of this funding is to help the state laboratories identify, collect, and analyze DNA samples from evidence collected in cases where no suspect has been identified or in which the original suspect has been eliminated. Our audit examined OJP's Program oversight and administration, Program participant's compliance with requirements, and the allowability of costs charged to the Program.


The Program's mission is "to increase the capacity of state laboratories to process and analyze crime-scene DNA in cases in which there are no known suspects, either through in-house capacity building or by outsourcing to accredited private [contractor] laboratories." The Program was authorized under the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, and was initiated with a Solicitation for applications to be submitted by September 2001. Due primarily to the events surrounding September 11, 2001, the Solicitation deadline was extended into FY 2002. Therefore, while the first year of the Program technically was FY 2001, the first grant applications were received and reviewed in FY 2002, and the first awards were issued toward the end of that fiscal year.2 OJP awarded approximately $28.5 million in this first year of the Program.

A total of 25 states received awards in the Program's first year (see page 5 for the complete listing of the grantees and award amounts). In many cases, these grantees teamed with co-grantees in their state (such as local laboratories or law enforcement agencies that received funding from the award to the Program grantee).

Program grantees received funding for the analysis of over 24,700 no-suspect DNA cases in the Program's first year. Each award was to be used for the processing and DNA analysis of no-suspect cases, defined by OJP as cases in which there is biological evidence from a crime but for which no suspect has been identified. Analysis could be conducted either "in-house" by the DNA laboratories within the grantee's state, by outsourcing to state or local laboratories outside of the grantee's state, by outsourcing to contractor laboratories, or some combination of these methods. In addition, Program funding could be used to purchase supplies and equipment and to pay overtime for the processing of no-suspect casework.

DNA profiles that result from Program-funded analysis are to be entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) so that those profiles can assist in solving crimes. CODIS is a national DNA information repository, maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that allows local, state, and federal crime laboratories to store and compare DNA profiles from crime-scene evidence and from convicted offenders. As of April 2004, the national CODIS database contained 1,762,005 DNA profiles. CODIS is used by participating forensic laboratories to compare DNA profiles, with the goal of matching case evidence to other previously unrelated cases or to persons already convicted of specific crimes.

Audit Approach

We audited the Program to evaluate the: 1) progress made toward the achievement of Program goals; 2) administration and oversight of the Program by OJP; 3) oversight of outsourcing laboratories by states receiving Program funds; and 4) allowability of costs charged to Program awards. While the Program will span multiple years, our audit focused on grants awarded during the first year of the Program. Grantee use of these funds, in many instances, is still on-going.

We reviewed documentation at OJP, conducted audits of four grantees and various co-grantees within those grantee states,3 and examined procedures of three contractor laboratories.4 The four grantees that we audited had received approximately 47 percent of the FY 2001 Program funding to pay for analysis of approximately 10,900 additional cases. In addition, the three contractor laboratories selected for review received contracts to provide DNA analysis services for 13 of the 19 grantees that outsourced analysis of their no-suspect cases.5

At each of the four grantees that we audited, we reviewed policies and procedures, documentation of DNA profiles contained in CODIS, reports describing the required onsite visits that grantees made to their contractor laboratories, and other compliance documentation. We reviewed this information to determine whether each grantee and co-grantee: 1) had adequate policies for chain-of-custody, evidence handling, quality control, and data review; 2) was uploading completed DNA profiles to CODIS in a timely manner; 3) was adequately monitoring their contractor laboratories; 4) was in compliance with relevant sections of the Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories (QAS)6 effective October 1, 1998; and 5) was accredited or certified and had a technical leader on staff.

We also audited each of these grantees' Program awards to determine whether costs charged to each award were allowable and properly supported, and whether each grantee was in compliance with selected award conditions. Those conditions included accurate and timely reporting, utilization of drawdowns, budget management and control, and contractor laboratory monitoring. We issued four separate audit reports that detailed the results of these individual audits.7

At each of the three selected contractor laboratories, we reviewed chain-of-custody and evidence handling policies and procedures, conducted laboratory tours, and reviewed other documentation to determine if the laboratory was in compliance with key Program requirements. Those requirements include maintaining current accreditation, adhering to relevant sections of the QAS, having an onsite technical leader, and maintaining controls over billing.

We also reviewed OJP's oversight of the Program to determine if awards were made in accordance with applicable legislation, and whether OJP adequately monitored grantee activities and compliance with Program requirements. In addition, we assessed OJP's efforts to monitor progress made toward achievement of the Program's stated mission.

The results of the various aspects of our auditing work are described in the following section.

Summary of Findings and Recommendations

Assessment of Program Achievements

In evaluating OJP's progress, we concluded that while Program grantees were funded for analyses of over 24,700 backlogged no-suspect cases, current data does not reveal whether increased laboratory capacity to process and analyze no-suspect cases is being met, particularly for those states that are strictly outsourcing DNA analyses.

Our analysis of data we collected from four grantee states indicated an increase in their forensic profiles uploaded to the national CODIS database during the period of their Program awards. However, this data did not distinguish between profiles from Program-funded no-suspect cases and other DNA uploads. For example, it is unclear from the data whether the increase in uploads is due to the Program funding, or whether it is because the laboratory hired, with its own funding, additional staff who helped increase productivity. Therefore, the data is inconclusive with regard to the achievement of the Program's mission.

In addition, we noted two issues that appear to affect the Program's success and impact:

  1. Only 41 percent or approximately $11.6 million of the $28.5 million of FY 2001 Program funds awarded were drawn down as of May 31, 2004, nearly two years after awards were made.

    In our judgment, significant delays in drawing down funding serve as indicators that state grantees are not using Program funds to increase their analytic capacity and reduce the backlog. Untimely implementation of each grantee's planned activities hinders the entire Program from achieving its objectives. Further, funds obligated and not drawn down by Program grantees in a timely manner prevent other viable DNA programs or Program grantees with more immediate needs from utilizing the funds.

  2. Several profiles that resulted from Program-funded analysis had not been uploaded to CODIS as of our review. This was caused primarily by delays in conducting required quality control reviews of the data. In some cases, nearly a year had passed since completed DNA profiles were returned by the contractor laboratories, yet they still had not been uploaded to CODIS.

    The crime-solving potential of these profiles cannot be realized until they are uploaded into CODIS, where they can be matched to convicted offenders or other crime-scene evidence.

We also identified some weaknesses in OJP's development of Program goals and in its monitoring of progress toward the achievement of the Program's mission. First, at the time our audit began, OJP had not developed formal goals or objectives for the Program. Subsequent to our inquiries, Program officials provided us with a list of newly established goals and objectives for the Program. Neither the performance measurements nor the new Program goals monitored uploaded profiles, statistics which we believe would be helpful to Program management in monitoring the Program's progress. In addition, neither addressed the Program's mission of increased laboratory capacity. While Program management did make an attempt to revise the measurements to better reflect the Program's progress, we concluded that the proposed new measurements still would not have generated the type of data that would allow Program management to track the Program's progress toward achieving its mission.

We recommend that OJP: 1) ensure Program-funded DNA profiles are reviewed and uploaded to CODIS in a timely manner; 2) develop and follow procedures that will allow Program officials to more closely monitor grantee drawdowns, as a means to ensure that adequate progress is being made toward the achievement of each grantee's goals, and objectives; and 3) develop Program performance measurements, goals and objectives that support and allow for the monitoring of progress toward the achievement of the Program's mission.

OJP Administration and Oversight of the Program

We reviewed the OJP's administration and oversight of the Program and determined that weaknesses existed in three areas.

First, OJP issued second-year Program grants to states that had not drawn down, as of the time the awards were issued, any of their first-year Program grant funds. Specifically, in FY 2003 OJP awarded seven grants for the second year of the program, totaling $10.2 million, to states that had drawn down essentially none of their initial awards totaling $11.8 million. We question OJP's awarding these additional funds to states that had not yet shown an ability to draw down their prior Program funds in a timely manner.

Second, the requirements instituted by Program management for contractor laboratories performing no-suspect casework analysis were inconsistent with those required for state and local laboratories performing the same work. Specifically, contractor laboratories are required to be accredited or certified by specific independent organizations, and to have a technical leader onsite. These conditions are not required for state or local laboratories that participate in the Program. During our review, we found five laboratories in the states of Ohio and Texas that were performing Program-funded no-suspect casework analysis but did not meet one or both of these requirements. In addition, we were unable to determine from documentation maintained by OJP whether all co-grantees in six additional grantee states met these same requirements. We believe that the level of scrutiny placed upon the contractor laboratories should similarly be placed upon the state and local laboratories.

Third, OJP has failed to ensure that the federal funds granted under the Program will benefit the national DNA database. Specifically, we identified one laboratory, the Fort Worth, Texas, Police Department, that was uploading Program-funded profiles to Texas' State DNA Index System (SDIS, the state level of the CODIS system) but those profiles were not being uploaded to the National DNA Index System (NDIS, the national level of the CODIS system). Only profiles uploaded to NDIS are able to aid investigations across state lines. Therefore, failing to upload to NDIS limits the crime-solving potential of the profiles. Upon further inquiry, we were informed that Fort Worth's profiles could not be uploaded to NDIS based upon a decision made by the FBI's NDIS Program Manager. Specifically, the Fort Worth Police Department, due to the closure of their DNA laboratory, had hired two contractors, one to analyze the no-suspect cases, and one to review the data produced by the first contractor and upload that data to CODIS. In December 2003, the Fort Worth Police Department was notified by the NDIS Program Manager that its data analysis contractor did not have the authority to upload forensic profiles for them. Since OJP's requirements for the Program only state that profiles are to be uploaded to CODIS (a term that encompasses the entire database system of indexes at the local, state, and national level), the Fort Worth Police Department was able to use Program-funded contractor services without violating OJP requirements, even though the resultant profiles could not be added to NDIS. We take issue with such an arrangement, and believe that viable profiles (complete and allowable) that result from federal funding awarded by OJP should be uploaded to the NDIS for comparison with DNA profiles from other NDIS laboratories. During our audit, the Fort Worth Police Department took action to remedy the arrangements it had for data review, to ensure the profiles could be added to NDIS. However, the failure of OJP to ensure that all viable profiles be uploaded to NDIS remains.

We recommend that OJP: 1) more closely monitor previous grantees' progress in drawing down grant funds prior to awarding them additional funding; 2) continue to pursue de-obligation of funds for Program grantees that have shown their inability to draw down their Program funds in a timely manner and that are unable to provide satisfactory evidence that they will be able to do so in the near future; 3) ensure that Program requirements in future years require all laboratories analyzing no-suspect cases to meet the same requirements; and 4) ensure that Program requirements encourage and clarify that the expectation for grantees is ultimately the upload of profiles to NDIS.

Grantee Oversight of Contractor Laboratories

In assessing the adequacy of grantee oversight of contractor laboratories, we identified four grantee/co-grantee laboratories that did not maintain adequate documentation to substantiate that their oversight of their contractor laboratories met certain requirements imposed by the QAS. Specifically, these laboratories could not substantiate that a complete onsite visit of their contractor laboratory had been conducted or that their contractor's on-going compliance with applicable standards had been confirmed.

In addition, six laboratories, including three grantee/co-grantee laboratories and three contractor laboratories, had incomplete or outdated outsourcing policies or procedures relating to chain-of-custody or evidence handling of no-suspect cases. For example, the written policies of each of the three grantee/co-grantee laboratories failed to describe fully the procedures currently in use for outsourcing no-suspect casework evidence. In each instance, the procedures staff used, as described to us, appeared sufficient to safeguard no-suspect casework evidence. In addition, two contractor laboratories' procedures failed to address an aspect of facility cleaning and decontamination. Finally, one contractor's procedures failed to describe methods to properly secure evidence after it had been received and logged in by the receptionist, but was awaiting the attention of technical personnel.

Allowability of Grantee Expenditures

We assessed the allowability of costs charged to Program awards by four grantees. While we found that they materially complied with most award requirements, we noted deficiencies at all four grantees and found some costs charged to Program awards that were unallowable and/or unsupported. As a result, we questioned costs of $111,297 out of a total of approximately $13.5 million awarded. In addition, we made nine recommendations addressed to OJP in separate audit reports we issued. Accordingly, these recommendations were not reiterated in this report.

We also assessed whether selected grantees/co-grantees complied with Program requirements pertaining to costs paid to contractor laboratories. We found that one co-grantee was overpaying for services received from its contractor laboratory, and we questioned $44,640 in unallowable costs as a result. We recommended that OJP remedy these questioned costs.

Our audit results are discussed in greater detail in the Findings and Recommendations section of this report. Our audit objectives, scope, and methodology, and a list of audited contractor laboratories, grantees, and co-grantees appear in Appendix I. Audit criteria applied during our work is described in Appendix III.


  1. The report, National Forensic DNA Study Report, was the result of a study conducted by Washington State University and Smith Alling Lane, a Tacoma, Washington, law firm.

  2. Throughout this report, we use "FY 2001" to refer to the first year of the Program, since it was in that fiscal year that the Program was initiated. We acknowledge that the first year of the Program was primarily implemented during FY 2002.

  3. We audited state and local laboratories in Ohio, Texas, New York, and Florida.

  4. We examined procedures at The Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Virginia; Orchid Cellmark in Germantown, Maryland, and in Dallas, Texas; and LabCorp in Durham, North Carolina.

  5. Six of the 25 grantees (Kansas, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware) did not outsource the analysis of their no-suspect cases to contractor laboratories.

  6. The Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories (QAS) provide DNA casework (forensic) laboratories with minimum standards they should follow to ensure the quality and integrity of the data and competency of the laboratory. Recipients of Program funding must also certify that DNA analysis performed with that funding will comply with the QAS. Additional details on the QAS are found in Appendix III of this report.

  7. See Appendix I for additional audit report information.