Federal Crime Laboratories Lack a Clear Policy for Assisting State and Local Jurisdictions

GGD-80-92: Published: Sep 12, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 12, 1980.

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The Government provides free crime laboratory services to State and local law enforcement agencies, a practice which is in direct conflict with the Federal policy of encouraging States and localities to develop their own capabilities and decrease their reliance on Federal laboratories. GAO reviewed the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms crime laboratories which provide direct support to the agencies' missions and also provide evidence examinations to State and local law enforcement agencies. Restricted budgets have forced two of the agencies to curtail some services previously provided, and reductions in services of all three laboratories are likely. Some States rely extensively on the free Federal services, others appear to be almost totally self-sufficient. State and local agencies use Federal laboratories as normal procedure, because of personal preference, or due to real or perceived problems at their laboratories. Federal laboratories are reluctant to restrict examination services to local law enforcement agencies, as they serve to strengthen the bonds between law enforcement groups.

A clear, coordinated strategy is needed to properly focus and balance Federal efforts to reduce Federal outlays and to encourage the development of independent State and local laboratories. A majority of the analyses performed were within the State and local laboratories' technical capabilities. More often than not, inadequate resources have detrimentally affected State and local laboratories. Continued availability of free Federal laboratory services will only serve to postpone actions needed at the State and local level to improve the quality and quantity of laboratory services. A clear Federal policy and a plan for achieving a phased reduction is needed to allow State and local jurisdictions time to prepare for the increased workload that the reduction of Federal services will cause.

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