The No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program
Audit Report No. 05-02
Office of the Inspector General
A key objective of the Department of Justice's (Department) strategic plan is to improve the crime fighting and criminal justice administration capabilities of state and local governments. The use of DNA profiles (computerized records containing DNA characteristics used for identification) has become an increasingly important crime-fighting tool, and the Department has created funding opportunities to assist state and local governments in implementing, expanding, or improving their use of DNA technology. The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), National Institute of Justice (NIJ), is the primary Department component disseminating these funds.
The NIJ, through its Office of Science and Technology, supports research, development, and improvements in the fields of forensic sciences. The Office of Science and Technology's Investigative and Forensic Sciences Division (IFSD) operates the DNA Backlog Reduction Program with the goal of eliminating public crime laboratories' backlogs of DNA evidence.
The NIJ's DNA Backlog Reduction Program has two components: the Convicted Offender DNA Backlog Reduction Program, which provides funding to states to outsource analyses of convicted offender samples to contractor laboratories; and the No Suspect Casework DNA Backlog Reduction Program (Program), which provides funding to identify, collect, and analyze DNA samples from evidence collected in no-suspect cases. The NIJ defines a no-suspect case as a case in which there is biological evidence from a crime but where no suspect has been identified or the original suspect has been eliminated. Our audit focused on the administration and operations of the program relating to no-suspect cases.8
When no-suspect cases are analyzed, the resulting DNA profiles are compared to local, state, and national DNA databases to search for matches with profiles from other crime scenes or from convicted offenders. These comparisons are conducted through the national network of DNA databases, referred to as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which we discuss on the following page.
CODIS is a national DNA information repository that allows local, state, and federal crime laboratories to store and compare DNA profiles from crime-scene evidence and from convicted offenders. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) oversees CODIS and provides participating laboratories with special software that organizes and manages its DNA profiles and related information. Through a hierarchy that encompasses national, state, and local indexes, CODIS identifies matches between DNA profiles from case evidence and a convicted offender or evidence from multiple crime scenes.
DNA profiles are uploaded into the national index (the National DNA Index System or NDIS) from the state indexes (SDIS), and from the local indexes (LDIS) into SDIS. The forensic laboratories at each level of the CODIS hierarchy decide which DNA profiles to upload to the next level, and conversely the state and national levels determine - generally based upon applicable state and federal legislation - which profiles they will accept from the local and state indexes.
Currently, CODIS contains two primary databases: the convicted offender database and the forensic database which contains the case evidence profiles. As of April 2004, NDIS contained 1,681,700 convicted offender profiles and 80,300 forensic profiles.
The FBI measures the effectiveness of CODIS by tracking the number of investigative leads that have been provided through CODIS' match capabilities. As of April 2004, the FBI reported a total of 16,695 investigations aided by CODIS.9
The current DNA casework backlog is significant. 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 across the country.10 Those cases include 52,000 homicides and 169,000 sexual assaults.
However, determining the full extent of the backlog is complicated by the fact that there are more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies that potentially could be retaining untested forensic DNA evidence. Only about 10 percent of the estimated backlog of casework samples have been submitted to state or local crime laboratories. Further, even if law enforcement agencies submitted these cases to state and local crime laboratories, most of those laboratories lack sufficient evidence storage facilities for the resulting volume of evidence. In addition, state and local laboratories have been challenged financially, have had difficulty filling positions with qualified candidates, and already have a backlog of evidence awaiting analysis from cases already submitted. Police departments often retain evidence samples without submitting them because they believe that crime laboratories will not accept the samples or would be unable to analyze them.
Because of the difficulty of quantifying the no-suspect casework backlog, our audit could not determine the impact that the Program had on reducing this backlog.
The Program was developed to assist states in reducing the number of untested no-suspect cases so that the resultant DNA profiles could be uploaded to CODIS. The Program was authorized under the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000. According to the NIJ, the mission of the Program 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 initiated with a Solicitation for applications to be submitted by September 2001. However, due primarily to the events surrounding September 11, 2001, the Solicitation deadline was extended into FY 2002. Therefore, while the Program was initiated in 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.11
Sources of the Program's $28.5 million in funding included a portion of $15.3 million transferred by the Attorney General from the Asset Forfeiture Fund Super Surplus,12 and a portion of $20 million appropriated in FY 2002 by Congress as part of funding for programs authorized under the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000. A total of 27 states13 applied for awards in the Program's first year, and 25 received awards.14
The 25 states that received funding proposed to analyze over 24,700 no-suspect cases using grant funds. The following table details the total grant awards that each state received and the number of no-suspect cases that they proposed to analyze with the funding:
Table 1: Program Grantees and Funds Awarded
Grantees could use Program funding to analyze no-suspect cases in several different ways:
The methodologies proposed by the states for the analysis of no-suspect cases are illustrated in the following graphic:
Figure 1: Program Summary - FY 2001
As shown above, six grantees chose to use in-house analysis only (Kansas, Missouri, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Delaware). For the 19 grantees that chose to outsource some or all of their DNA analyses, the following table details which contractor laboratories they selected:
Table 2: Program Grantees and Contractor Laboratories
In addition to the direct costs of in-house analysis or outsourcing, Program funds also could be used for a number of other purposes in support of the analysis of no-suspect cases. These included paying for costs associated with oversight of contractor laboratories, purchasing supplies and equipment, or paying for overtime for the processing of no-suspect casework.
One stated objective of the Program was to foster cooperation and collaboration among all of the affected governmental agencies and departments, such as law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories, and prosecutors. According to the NIJ, the intent of this objective was to maximize the use of CODIS for solving no-suspect crimes. Therefore, states with more than one DNA laboratory were required to demonstrate that all of its laboratories were provided with the opportunity to participate in the Program. Consequently, while the awards were issued to one agency within each state, those grantees were required to coordinate and facilitate the participation of co-grantees as part of its award. Therefore, within this report and throughout our audit work we included co-grantees (i.e., local laboratories or law enforcement agencies that also received funds from the Program), within the scope of our review.
The oversight of the funds distributed by the Program involved various entities. Specifically:
In several states, including Ohio and New York, the primary grantees formalized its relationship with each co-grantee in the form of a contract or agreement to ensure that each co-grantee understood their oversight and compliance obligations.
Each of these layers of accountability is addressed within this report. Finding I assesses Program achievements. Finding II addresses OJP's responsibilities of oversight, Finding III addresses each grantee's oversight over technical operations, and Finding IV addresses financial management of the primary grantee.