Review of the Office of Justice Programs’ Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2006-002
Office of the Inspector General
The Department of Justice Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program (Coverdell Grant Program) provides funds to state and local governments to improve the timeliness and quality of forensic science and medical examiner services and to eliminate backlogs in the analysis of forensic evidence. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), under the legal and fiscal oversight of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), plans to distribute almost $15 million in fiscal year (FY) 2005 Coverdell Grants.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) evaluated the FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement and application review process. In particular, we focused on the new “external investigation certification” requirement, imposed by the Justice for All Act of 2004, which requires Coverdell Grant applicants to submit:
A certification that a government entity exists and an appropriate process is in place to conduct independent external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of the forensic results committed by employees or contractors of any forensic laboratory system, medical examiner’s office, coroner’s office, law enforcement storage facility, or medical facility in the State that will receive a portion of the grant amount.1
RESULTS IN BRIEF
NIJ did not enforce the external investigation certification requirement imposed by the Justice for All Act of 2004. We found that NIJ’s FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement did not give applicants necessary guidance. For example, in its announcement NIJ did not provide examples of the types of government entities and processes that could meet the certification requirement, did not direct applicants to provide the name of the government entity that would conduct investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct, and did not require a letter from the named government entity acknowledging its responsibility to conduct investigations. Without the name of the government entity responsible for conducting an independent external investigation, NIJ cannot evaluate the applicants’ certifications or provide effective oversight of that portion of the Coverdell Grant Program.
NIJ did not provide necessary guidance to applicants in the FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement.
NIJ did not provide applicants with guidance on what constitutes an independent external investigation in the FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement. Prior to the publication of the announcement, NIJ received questions regarding the external investigation certification requirement from the OIG, potential grant applicants, and the Innocence Project but did not include necessary guidance in the announcement.2 Those questions sought information regarding the types of government entities and processes that could satisfy the certification requirement imposed by the Justice for All Act of 2004. NIJ program managers and attorneys in OJP’s Office of the General Counsel officials told us that they considered providing more guidance in the Coverdell Grant Program Announcement, but decided against it because the guidance would have to cover a wide variety of state and local government entities and investigation processes.
The principal shortcomings in the FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement were NIJ’s failure to provide examples of external investigation certifications and its failure to require applicants to name the government entity responsible for conducting the independent external investigation envisioned by the Justice for All Act of 2004. Further, when applicants sought clarification of the certification requirement in the announcement, NIJ still did not require them to name the government entity. In response to the announcement, 74 of the 223 applicants did not submit an external investigation certification, and 56 other applicants simply quoted the statutory language but did not provide the name of the government entity responsible for the investigations.
After NIJ’s FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement was published, the OIG reviewed the announcement and expressed concern to NIJ that the announcement did not provide applicants with sufficient guidance on what constitutes an independent external investigation for purposes of the certification. NIJ informed the OIG that it would not provide additional general guidance to all applicants but would respond to applicants’ questions and request the information necessary to evaluate the certifications on a case-by-case basis.
NIJ did not request the information necessary to evaluate the applicants’ external investigation certifications.
After the applications were received, however, NIJ decided not to respond to applicants’ questions or request information on a case-by-case basis. Instead, in response to questions from applicants, NIJ provided eight examples of the types of government entities and processes that may or may not meet the external investigation certification requirement. NIJ directed all 223 applicants to review the 8 examples and to complete a re-certification form provided by NIJ. The form quoted the Justice for All Act of 2004 certification requirement and directed applicants to provide only the name of the applicant agency and the signature of a certifying official from the applicant agency. In response, 198 applicants submitted re-certification forms; 25 applicants did not re-certify and these applicants were not considered for Coverdell Grants.
Because NIJ still did not request the name of the government entity responsible for conducting external investigations, the 198 re-certification forms that the applicants submitted did not contain the information necessary for NIJ to evaluate the certifications. Of the 198 applicants who re-certified, 129 submitted the re-certification form as NIJ requested, and 69 submitted different information than that requested on the re-certification form. Nonetheless, NIJ approved all 198 grant applications.
After reviewing the external investigation certifications and re-certification forms submitted to NIJ, we concluded that, prior to approving the Coverdell Grant applications, NIJ should have required each applicant to name the government entity in its certification. Further, to address the confusion and clarify the requirements of the certifications and re-certifications, we believe that NIJ also should have considered requiring each applicant to provide a letter from the named government entity acknowledging its obligation to conduct the independent external investigations envisioned by the Justice for All Act of 2004.3 Yet, NIJ did not require any of that information.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
NIJ did not enforce the external investigation certification requirement imposed by the Justice for All Act of 2004 during the application process or exercise effective oversight of this aspect of the FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program. The FY 2005 Coverdell Grant Program Announcement did not provide necessary guidance on how applicants could meet the external investigation certification requirement. The announcement also did not direct applicants to name the government entity with a process in place to conduct independent external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct under the grant.
We believe that Coverdell Grant Program Announcements must provide necessary guidance to applicants and request the information required for NIJ to evaluate the external investigation certifications and conduct effective oversight of the grants. To meet the requirements of the Justice for All Act of 2004, we recommend that OJP, as part of its oversight of NIJ: