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The FBI DNA Laboratory: A Review of Protocol and Practice Vulnerabilities

May 2004
Office of the Inspector General


Our investigation was prompted by the misconduct of FBI Staff Biologist Jacqueline Blake. Because of her failure to follow DNAUI protocols, and the inadequacy of those protocols to expose her misconduct, we assessed the DNAUI's vulnerability to other inadvertent or willful protocol noncompliance by its employees.

Although our review did not identify other instances of misconduct by DNAUI staff members, we determined that certain DNAUI protocols and operations are vulnerable to abuse. Specifically, in approximately 20 percent of the protocol sections we reviewed we identified one or more of the following deficiencies: 1) the protocol lacks sufficient detail; 2) the protocol fails to inform the exercise of staff discretion; 3) the protocol fails to ensure the precision of manual notetaking; and 4) the protocol is outdated. While in most instances the work practices of the DNAUI's staff members served to mitigate the effects of these vulnerabilities, we believe that until the DNAUI's protocols are revised in accordance with the recommendations in this report, the DNAUI needlessly will remain subject to an increased risk of employee error and inadvertent protocol noncompliance. Because of the importance of the DNAUI's work, we believe the Laboratory should address these deficiencies expeditiously.

To remedy the protocol vulnerabilities that we identified, our report makes various recommendations to the FBI Laboratory and DNAUI management, such as: 1) replace vague sections of the protocols with comprehensive guidance and descriptions of the "best practices" currently in use; 2) add work flow and decision aids to the specific protocol sections we identified to assist staff members to exercise properly their judgment during the DNA testing process; 3) provide staff members with guidance sufficient to ensure that case documentation and case file reviews meet management expectations, and that protocols provide comprehensive guidance on notetaking requirements; and 4) update protocols to reflect current methods in use in the DNAUI.

Further, with regard to operations, our analysis revealed that the Laboratory and DNAUI management should: 1) promote greater consistency in DNAUI operations; 2) develop a comprehensive, written training curriculum; 3) improve management and staff information sharing; and 4) complete implementation of an information management system to improve efficiency and evidence tracking capabilities. Until significant progress is made in each of these areas, the DNAUI will remain vulnerable to a heightened risk of error.

Finally, during our review we identified a number of concerns with the FBI's management response to Blake's misconduct. We recommend that the Laboratory maintain basic case data and contact information for evidence contributors and associated prosecutors in an electronic format that can be shared conveniently as needed with other FBI components (e.g., FBI OPR and FBI OGC) and the Department of Justice, provide prompt notification to evidence contributors of future protocol violations, and perform a file review of a sample of cases that Blake is known to have worked on prior to becoming a PCR Biologist to reconfirm that the procedures that were required in fact are documented as appropriate in the case files.

In sum, Jacqueline Blake's misconduct exposed weaknesses in the FBI DNA Laboratory's protocols and policies. We found that Blake was able to escape detection not only because she deceived her co-workers and her supervisors for two years, but also because the FBI failed to develop policies that subjected her work and the work of other DNA biologists to adequate scrutiny.

The FBI Laboratory cannot allow the integrity of its DNA testing results to rely solely on the trustworthiness of its employees. It must develop and enforce adequate quality assurance safeguards to identify staff errors and misconduct. Our assessment of the DNAUI's protocols to undetected inadvertent or willful noncompliance by DNAUI staff members revealed vulnerabilities. We believe that the recommendations contained in this report, if implemented fully and expeditiously, will help eliminate these weaknesses and significantly improve the FBI Laboratory's ability to detect promptly instances of protocol noncompliance in the DNAUI.