We concluded that, although OJP has complied with the terms of the statute to obtain certifications from applicants, OJP’s administration of the external investigation certification requirement needs improvement. Our review found that OJP’s administration of the Coverdell Program external investigation certification requirement is not effective for ensuring (1) that grants are awarded only to applicants that have certified entities that can independently investigate allegations of serious negligence or misconduct in forensic laboratories, or (2) that serious allegations of negligence or misconduct at forensic laboratories are referred to the certified entities for investigation.
Overall, one-third of 231 entities identified by the FY 2006 Coverdell Program certifying officials lacked the authority or capability to independently investigate allegations of negligence or misconduct at forensic laboratories. Beginning with the FY 2007 Coverdell Program, OJP has agreed to require grant applicants to name the investigative entities that they certified have a process in place to conduct independent external investigations. Obtaining the name of the entity is a step forward and will ensure that applicants do not submit certifications when they have not actually identified entities capable of independently investigating misconduct or negligence. However, as our review demonstrated, obtaining the name of an entity is insufficient to ensure that an applicant certifies an entity that can conduct independent investigations.
Moreover, we are concerned that current guidance and procedures do not ensure that allegations of serious negligence or misconduct are actually referred for an independent investigation by a qualified entity. Under OJP’s current guidance, the external investigation certification requirement established by Congress is satisfied solely with the submission of a certification form, and nothing more is required if allegations are received. We believe OJP’s position undermines and diminishes the utility of the Coverdell Program for improving the oversight of forensic laboratories.
We concluded that OJP’s administration of the Coverdell Program external investigation certification requirement should be improved to reduce the chance that the administration of justice is based on inadequate forensic analysis. To improve its administration of the Coverdell Program, the OIG believes that OJP needs to require that applicants provide sufficient information on the certification form to ensure that applicants have accurately assessed the qualifications and independence of the entities they certify, and OJP must diligently review the certifications submitted. Further, OJP should enhance the effectiveness of the Coverdell Program for ensuring the integrity of forensic analysis by requiring that allegations of wrongdoing at forensic laboratories actually be referred to the certified entities for independent investigation.
To improve OJP’s administration of the Coverdell Program and ensure that allegations of negligence or misconduct are subject to independent external investigations, the OIG recommends that OJP take the following actions:
Revise the certification template to require that applicants name the government entities and confirm that the government entities have:
- the authority,
- the independence,
- a process in place that excludes laboratory management, and
- the resources
Provide applicants with guidance that allegations of serious negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of forensic results are to be referred to the certified government entities.
Revise and document the Coverdell Program application review process so that only applicants that submit complete external investigation certifications are awarded grants.
to conduct independent external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct by the forensic laboratories that will receive Coverdell Program funds.