FBI has more than 3,200 DNA cases backlogged
Updated 2:57 p.m. ET
Thousands of legal proceedings could face delays because the Federal Bureau of Investigation has more than 3,200 forensic DNA cases backlogged, a workload agency officials blame on a lack of money and manpower, according to a new watchdog report.
The FBI Laboratory in Quantico each year processes hundreds of thousands of samples from convicted offenders and analyzes an average of 2,200 forensic DNA samples for ongoing cases. It had a backlog of more than 300,000 convicted offender samples in 2009 and anticipates eliminating the backlog by September.
But a sizable forensic DNA caseload remains: Cases involving the analysis of bodily fluids including blood and semen have climbed almost 40 percent, or 757 total cases in the last year. Cases requiring the analysis of hairs, bones and teeth have climbed 130 percent to a total of 276, according to a report released Monday by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
"Backlogs may delay legal proceedings that are waiting on the results of DNA analysis," the report said. "Backlogs can also prevent the timely capture of criminals, prolong the incarceration of innocent people who could be exonerated by DNA evidence, and adversely affect families of missing persons waiting for positive identification of remains."
The laboratory is failing to meet its goal of processing cases in 60 days, with some cases waiting as long as 600 days for final results, investigators said. As of March, missing persons cases accounted for most of the uncompleted workload, with 1,147 cases, or 42 percent of the backlog. Lab personnel told investigators that such cases are less of a priority because they often lack a suspect and trial date.
The analysis of improvised explosive devices sent from Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere can take an average of 268 days to complete. The delay could impact the military's ability to prevent future terrorist attacks by hampering efforts to identify the bomb maker, according to investigators.
The report faults the FBI's failed seven-year, $10 million effort to develop an electronic tracking system for the backlog. The program is still under development, making it impossible to easily track the workload, the report said. Delays also are caused by the FBI's efforts to help state and local forensic labs cut their backlog and federal legislation passed in recent years -- including the PATRIOT Act -- that allows law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from anyone convicted of a federal offense and non-U.S. citizens detained in the country, the report said.
FBI officials touted the reduction of all of the lab’s backlogs and blamed Congress for rejecting requests for almost $120 million for DNA analysis and $260 million to conduct the analysis of IEDs.
“The FBI believes that our backlog numbers could be significantly lower had resources kept pace with the escalating submissions,” it said in its formal response to the report.
The FBI employs 17 DNA examiners and is in the process of hiring another 17, it said. But the report said the hiring and training process could stretch as long as 18 months, doing little to trim the backlog. Six of the new hires will be fully trained by the end of the year and the rest will be ready by the end of next year, according to a spokeswoman.
“Forensic DNA analysis has proven to be invaluable to the law enforcement community, and the victims of violent crimes and their families," the FBI said in a separate statement. "The FBI Laboratory remains fully committed to the elimination of its DNA backlogs and will continue to strive to improve its timely support to the law enforcement and intelligence communities while maintaining the highest standards of quality.”
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| August 9, 2010; 10:59 AM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments, Oversight
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