Audit details failures of DC's Department of Forensic Sciences

An audit of D.C.'s Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) found that the department failed to "operate as an independent part of the justice system."

The report from the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) says that the failure of DFS, which lost its accreditation last year, was due to several issues, including weak legislation, lack of resources, and a decision by prosecutors to act outside the statutory oversight structure. That decision, approved by the D.C. Council, gave DFS management the final say in oversight, instead of the Science Advisory Board.

The report also found that the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser played a part in the failure.

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"The D.C. Council sought to create a best-in-class forensics lab mirroring recommendations from the landmark 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences," said D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson. "But D.C. policymakers failed to provide resources to the DFS Science Advisory Board to ensure it could provide independent oversight of the lab." 

"Key partners in the criminal justice system–the U.S. Attorney and Office of the D.C. Attorney General–failed to use the statutorily-created Stakeholder Council or the Science Advisory Board to address their legitimate concerns, turning instead to their own external auditors to expose problems instead of working collaboratively to address them," Patterson added. 

The report also found that DFS misclassified and mismanaged complaints containing allegations of professional negligence and misconduct, and it did not consistently follow D.C. Municipal Regulations and its own policies and procedures for handling complaints. 

The report claims that without proper handling, resolution, and reporting of complaints, DFS could not assure customers and the public that the agency could provide transparent and trusted forensic evidence.

The report recommends that Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council provide sufficient funding for the Science Advisory Board to fulfill its intended oversight role, which would include investigating discrepancies in DFS's scientific findings.

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To help ease the issues, the D.C. Council is considering a bill to alter the structure of DFS oversight entities, revise requirements of the agency leadership, and deem the agency to be independent.

The Council is expected to vote on the bill next Tuesday, December 6.

Read the full audit below: