Fast Facts

State and local crime labs analyze DNA evidence from crime scenes to help bring criminals to justice. At the end of 2017, these labs had about 169,000 backlogged requests for DNA analysis.

While labs are doing more work, requests have increased in part because scientific advancements have made DNA analysis more useful.

Also, thousands of sexual assault kits haven't even been submitted to crime labs for DNA analysis. We looked at why these kits stay in storage and recent efforts to get them submitted.

We recommended that the Department of Justice improve its management of a grant program intended to help labs process DNA requests.

Crime scene evidence in storage

Crime scene evidence in bags and boxes on shelves.

Crime scene evidence in bags and boxes on shelves.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

GAO found that the reported number of backlogged requests for crime scene DNA analysis at state and local government labs has increased by 85 percent from 2011 through 2017, the most recent full year for which grantee data were available (from about 91,000 to about 169,000). This growth has occurred despite labs' collectively processing more requests over time, as shown below.

Requests for Crime Scene DNA Analysis, Requests Completed, and Backlogged Requests at State and Local Government Labs (2011-2017)

HL_5 - 102274

a“DNA requests” means requests for biology screening and/or DNA testing such that if a request requires one or both, it is counted once.

bSome requests may be closed by administrative means rather than through analysis, such as when a suspect pleads guilty before the evidence is analyzed or when the victim has not consented to participate in the criminal justice process. These requests are included in the number of requests received but are not included in the number of requests completed.

cThe National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines a “backlogged” request for crime scene DNA analysis as a request that has not been closed by the issuance of a report to the submitting agency within 30 days of receipt in the lab.

GAO found that the Office of Justice Programs (OJP)—the primary grant-making arm of the Department of Justice—has not consistently documented program-wide goals for its DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction grant program (CEBR). For example, it has documented different meanings of “capacity enhancement.” Additionally, CEBR performance measures do not fully reflect selected attributes of successful performance measures, such as having measurable targets. These issues hinder OJP's ability to assess program results.

GAO found that OJP has designed controls to achieve its objectives related to compliance with selected requirements for transparency in grantee procurement that apply to both OJP and CEBR grantees. However, OJP has not properly designed all controls related to selected requirements for conflicts of interest and lobbying. While OJP has designed a control to review confidential financial disclosure reports submitted by OJP employees who administer CEBR grants, OJP does not have the required documentation designating which officials are authorized to certify these reports. Similarly, OJP has designed controls to obtain required lobbying certification and disclosure forms from grantees, but OJP has not taken steps to ensure that grantees collect and forward to OJP, as appropriate, these forms from subgrantees and contractors, as required.

Why GAO Did This Study

Many state and local government crime labs continue to have backlogs of requests for crime scene DNA analysis, which may include sexual assault kits, despite DOJ awarding nearly $1 billion since 2004 through the CEBR grant program to enhance lab capacity and reduce backlogs. Additionally, questions have been raised about potential improper connections among those who profit from CEBR grants—such as private labs and DNA equipment vendors—and those who advocate for CEBR funding.

This report examines, among other things, (1) what is known about the amount of backlogged DNA evidence at state and local government labs; (2) the extent to which OJP measures CEBR grant performance; and (3) the extent to which OJP has designed controls to identify conflicts of interest related to CEBR grants. GAO reviewed CEBR grantee data on DNA evidence backlogs from 2011-2017 (the most recent years of comparable data). GAO reviewed documentation on CEBR performance and controls related to conflicts of interest, transparency in grantee procurement, and lobbying. GAO also reviewed relevant reports and studies, and interviewed officials from DOJ.

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Recommendations

GAO is making four recommendations. OJP should (1) consistently document CEBR goals, (2) revise CEBR performance measures, (3) document its designation of confidential financial disclosure certifiers, and (4) clarify guidance for lobbying requirements for CEBR grantees. DOJ concurred with all four recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Justice Programs 1. The Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP should consistently document CEBR program-wide goals to clarify intended program results. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In September 2019, OJP reported that it is building a logic model for the CEBR program that will provide the basis for addressing this recommendation. According to OJP, this logic model will more clearly align CEBR program goals and objectives with permitted program activities and associated performance measures. OJP had originally planned to finalize this logic model by March 2020 and share it--including any resulting changes in how program goals are articulated--with the CEBR stakeholder community in advance of the fiscal year 2021 grant cycle, beginning October 1, 2020. In June 2020, OJP reported that the CEBR program was transferred from OJP's National Institute of Justice to OJP's Bureau of Justice Assistance. As a result, OJP reported that plans to finalize and communicate the CEBR logic model have been postponed. GAO will follow-up with OJP in the winter of 2020-2021 to obtain documentation on the logic model and how they are communicating it. This will enable GAO to determine if the model--and OJP's efforts to communicate it to stakeholders--meets the intent of the recommendation by consistently documenting CEBR program-wide goals and clarifying intended results.
Office of Justice Programs 2. The Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP should ensure that performance measures for each CEBR program-wide goal fully reflect appropriate attributes of successful performance measures. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In September 2019, OJP reported that it is reviewing each CEBR program performance measure as part of its process for creating a CEBR program logic model. According to OJP, the purpose of this review is to ensure the measures are meaningful and have the right attributes. In June 2020, OJP reported that, as appropriate, updated performance measures will be included in the fiscal year 2021 CEBR grant program solicitation--which they anticipate releasing in early 2021. GAO will follow-up with OJP in the spring of 2021 to obtain documentation of changes to performance measures, and to determine whether updated performance measures meet the intent of the recommendation.
Office of Justice Programs 3. The Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP should document which employee positions have been delegated certification (final signature) authority for confidential financial disclosure reports and specify required levels of review and approval. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In June 2020, OJP provided a memo sent by the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP to OJP components, dated March 2020. This memo states that supervisors are to review and sign reports, and notes that secondary supervisors may review and sign reports as Final Reviewing Officials, but it is not mandatory. This is a positive step, but does not fully meet the intent of the recommendation because it is not clear if immediate supervisors have been delegated final signature authority. Specifically, there are two places for signature on the reports (1) "Signature and Title of Supervisor/Other Intermediate Reviewer," and (2) "Signature and Title of Agency's Final Reviewing Official" (certification). According to Office of Government Ethics' regulation and guidance, review and signature of a supervisor or other intermediate reviewer is optional, but review and signature of a Final Reviewing Official-who has been delegated authority to certify reports-is required. OJP's memo states that secondary supervisors may sign as Final Reviewing Officials (i.e. have been delegated this authority), but OJP's memo is not clear if immediate supervisors have also been delegated authority to certify reports as Final Reviewing Officials. To address this discrepancy and enable GAO to close this recommendation as "implemented," OJP needs to clarify who has been delegated authority to certify reports as Final Reviewing Officials.
Office of Justice Programs 4. The Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for OJP should (1) clarify its guidance to grantees to specify what their requirements are under 28 C.F.R. pt. 69 with regard to obtaining lobbying certification documents, and obtaining and forwarding to OJP lobbying disclosure forms, from tiers beneath them; and (2) design a control to follow-up with grantees to help ensure they are meeting these requirements. (Recommendation 4)
Open
In September 2020, OJP reported that it plans to (1) issue guidance to all OJP funding recipients to remind them of lobbying disclosure requirements and provide instructions for how to submit the disclosures, and (2) implement an updated in-depth monitoring checklist whereby OJP can ensure applicable lobbying disclosure forms are collected and submitted to OJP. OJP stated that it plans to take these steps by October 1, 2020. GAO will follow-up in late 2020 to obtain and review all relevant documentation and ensure that these steps meet the intent of the recommendation.

Full Report

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