NIJ Questioned On DNA Project Bids

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As crime lab directors, civil libertarians, and even some law enforcement officials advocate for narrower DNA collection policies, they have encountered a lobbying firm with close ties to both the Justice Department and to private companies that profit directly from increased DNA testing, reports ProPublica.org for Politico.com. The firm, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, lobbies the Justice Department and lawmakers on behalf of the world's leading producer of DNA testing equipment. The firm worked on four other DNA-related projects commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice Department. Most were done without an open bidding process that would have allowed universities with forensic science departments to compete for the work.

At the request of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the Justice Department's inspector general is investigating whether NIJ awards its grants fairly and openly. “At the very least, there are questionable conflicts of interest, serious voids of transparency and unethical behavior unbecoming to the Department of Justice,” Shelby said. Nearly a decade ago, the Justice Department launched a $600 million effort to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence sitting in crime labs and police departments nationwide. The Justice Department, along with Congress and state legislatures, also has pushed to have law enforcement collect more DNA, including from people arrested for nonviolent crimes. As a result, the DNA backlog is growing and crime lab directors say they're so overwhelmed with samples that it's hard for them to find the murderers, rapists, and other criminals whose DNA may be waiting on their shelves.

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