Justice Grant Programs:

DOJ Could Improve Decision-Making Documentation and Better Assess Results of DNA Backlog Reduction Program Funds

GAO-13-605: Published: Jul 31, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2013.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Michele Mackin
(202) 512-4841
mackinm@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) allocated funding for various DNA and other forensic science activities, with the majority of the available $691 million from fiscal years 2008 through 2012 going to state and local governments to reduce the DNA backlog. Specifically, over this 5-year period, 64 percent was allocated through initiatives that directly benefit state and local efforts to reduce DNA backlogs and build DNA analysis capacity. The largest initiative was NIJ's DNA Backlog Reduction Program, and other DNA backlog initiatives included DNA analysis of cold cases, among others. A smaller portion (31 percent) went to other forensic sciences initiatives, such as research and development and training, although NIJ officials stated that funding these initiatives may have long-term benefits for reducing the DNA backlog. The remainder of the funding went toward other activities, such as management and administration.

NIJ has a process in place to determine DNA and forensic program funding priorities, but its decisions regarding these priorities are not clearly documented. According to NIJ officials, the rationale for funding the DNA Backlog Reduction Program versus other initiatives is documented in briefing slides, but these documents do not show NIJ's rationale for how funding priorities are determined. For example, while the budget documents for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 show the final amounts NIJ decided to allocate to various initiatives, these documents do not provide details on the justifications for how funding levels were determined for each initiative. Without a clearly documented process that demonstrates the rationale for NIJ's annual funding priorities, there is limited transparency regarding how and why the agency is allocating its funding.

NIJ could verify data and revise its performance measure to better assess the DNA Backlog Reduction Program. NIJ assesses performance of this program by requiring grantees to submit reports every 6 months that, in part, outline their progress in meeting program goals and objectives. However, NIJ does not have an approach to verify the reliability of the data--testing data to ensure data quality--and as a result, faces continuing data errors. Verifying these data would help ensure that the data are reliable enough to show that the program is successfully meeting its goals. In addition, NIJ has a performance measure to assess the results of this program--percent of reduction in DNA backlog casework--but it is a projection of DNA casework that grantees expect to complete as opposed to an actual tabulation of completed cases. While measuring annual performance for multiyear grants can be challenging because the completed number of cases is not known until after the grant period closes, taking steps to analyze performance data on actual cases completed could help NIJ to better assess actual results.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 2008, Congress has appropriated more than $100 million each year to the Department of Justice (DOJ) that may be used, among other things, to reduce DNA backlogs and enhance crime laboratory capacity. NIJ, within DOJ, is responsible for, among other things, providing awards for DNA analysis and forensic activities. NIJ's DNA Backlog Reduction Program was established to provide grants to state and local governments with the intent, in part, of reducing the backlog of DNA samples. The conference report accompanying the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012, mandated GAO to examine, among other things, DNA analysis funds. This report addresses (1) how NIJ has allocated its DNA and forensic program appropriation over the past 5 fiscal years, (2) the extent that NIJ has a process to determine its funding priorities for its DNA and forensic program appropriation, and (3) the extent that NIJ verifies data on grant results submitted by grantees and measures the outcomes of the DNA Backlog Reduction Program. GAO reviewed relevant appropriations, NIJ funding documentation, and data from fiscal years 2008 through 2012, and interviewed NIJ officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that NIJ clearly document the rationale for annual funding priorities, develop a cost-effective approach to verify the reliability of grantee performance data, and revise its performance measure to reflect actual completed cases. DOJ agreed with GAO's recommendations and outlined steps to address them.

For more information, contact Michele Mackin at (202) 512-4841 or MackinM@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: On September 5, 2014, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) explained that it plans to document the rationale for its estimated initial allocations for forensic programs via a program allocation memorandum from the Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS) Director to the NIJ Director, beginning with the fiscal year 2015 funding cycle. The NIJ director will document action on the program allocation memorandum by signing to approve or disapprove the memorandum, or to approve it with any specified changes . NIJ noted that initial program allocations are estimated based on anticipated funding, and final funding allocations are reflected in the awards ultimately made . NIJ provided a copy of the template it will use as the program allocation memorandum, as well as its initial funding allocation for DNA and other forensics programs in fiscal year 2014. NIJ's actions are positive steps and, if these steps clearly document the process for determining the rationale for NIJ's annual funding priorities, it will help improve NIJ's transparency regarding how and why the agency is allocating its funding. We will await NIJ's finalized fiscal year 2015 program allocation memorandum to determine whether these steps fully address the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to provide stakeholders and Congress greater transparency regarding its funding allocations, the Director of NIJ should document the rationale for its annual funding priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: National Institute of Justice

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: On September 5, 2014, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) explained that as of the progress reporting period ending June 30, 2014, the Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences (OIFS) is requiring supporting documentation in order to verify data submitted with all semi-annual progress reports from open DNA Backlog Reduction Program awards. The documentation will be used to corroborate and validate submitted performance data. NIJ also noted that the Grants Management Division (GMD) will monitor activities such as site visits and enhanced performance desk reviews (EPDR), both of which will include data validation. GMD will also assist in the validation and verification of performance data submitted with the progress reports for those grantees that will not undergo a site visit or EPDR. Finally, NIJ is currently working to identify additional mechanisms to, among other things, validate performance data submitted under the NIJ DNA Backlog Reduction and Capacity Enhancement program. NIJ is examining methods and tools that are already in use elsewhere in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) under a purchase agreement covering these services and expects to have a mechanism in place by the end of calendar year 2014. While NIJ has efforts underway to validate the performance data--or assure the data are appropriate for the given performance measure--it is unclear the extent to which these steps will verify the reliability of the performance data to ensure data quality and reduce the risk of using data that contain errors. We will await finalization of this mechanism to determine whether it has fully addressed the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to assist Congress and NIJ management and stakeholders to better assess whether NIJ's DNA Backlog Reduction Program is having a measurable impact in reducing the DNA backlog, the Director of NIJ should develop a cost-effective approach to verify performance data submitted by grantees to provide reasonable assurance that such data are sufficiently reliable to report progress in reducing the DNA backlog.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: National Institute of Justice

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: We found that the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has a performance measure to assess the results of the DNA Backlog Reduction Program--percent of reduction in DNA backlog casework--but it is a projection of DNA casework that grantees expect to complete as opposed to an actual tabulation of completed cases. As a result, we recommended that NIJ revise its performance measure to include casework actually completed. On September 5, 2014, NIJ explained that it will implement a new measure beginning with the Fiscal Year 2015 DNA Backlog Reduction Program. The new measure is 'Percent increase in the number of DNA profile uploads into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) system from the previous fiscal year.' According to NIJ, the new measure will allow NIJ to verify the data requested and accurately reflect the increasing capacity of forensic DNA laboratories. We believe this action, once implemented, will address the recommendation. To close the recommendation, NIJ must complete the efforts they have underway and show the use of this new metric.

    Recommendation: In order to assist Congress and NIJ management and stakeholders to better assess whether NIJ's DNA Backlog Reduction Program is having a measurable impact in reducing the DNA backlog, the Director of NIJ should revise the "percent of reduction in DNA backlog casework" performance measure to include casework actually completed as part of the measure instead of casework that is projected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: National Institute of Justice

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jun 29, 2015

Jun 19, 2015

May 28, 2015

Apr 29, 2015

Mar 23, 2015

Mar 16, 2015

Mar 4, 2015

Feb 23, 2015

Dec 11, 2014

Dec 10, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here