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Forensic Science Communications January 2004 – Volume 6 – Number 1
Short Communication
The FBI Selects Four Regional mtDNA Laboratories

The April 2003 issue of Forensic Science Communications at announced a $4,000,000 appropriation in fiscal year 2003 for the FBI to operate four regional mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) laboratories. On September 30, 2003, the FBI awarded multiyear cooperative agreements to the following agencies:

  • Arizona Department of Public Safety, Phoenix, Arizona

  • Connecticut State Police, Meriden, Connecticut

  • Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, St. Paul, Minnesota

  • New Jersey State Police, Trenton, New Jersey

Regional mtDNA laboratories will partner with the FBI Laboratory to augment the Bureau's capacity for no-cost mtDNA analysis in forensic and missing persons cases. As laboratories become operational during the next two years, the effect will be to double the FBI's capacity to deliver no-cost mtDNA analysis to the criminal justice system. Cases will be submitted directly to regional mtDNA laboratories without first going through the FBI Laboratory. Designated service areas will function as regions but not necessarily on a geographic basis. Service areas will be defined as patterns of case submissions emerge during initial operation.

In May 2003 the FBI Laboratory notified crime laboratories participating in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) program of plans to competitively select partner laboratories. In June 2003 a briefing for interested agencies was held in Arlington, Virginia. Approximately 35 state and local crime laboratories sent representatives or requested materials. Twelve applications were received. A wide range of forensic laboratories applied, but selected laboratories share the following traits. They are statewide, full-service forensic laboratories, and they are accredited in DNA and trace evidence with established nuclear DNA and CODIS programs.

Cooperative agreements provide for the FBI to train and equip regional mtDNA laboratories and authorize casework that meets FBI quality standards. Partner laboratories will be responsible for mtDNA analysis, reporting results, and testifying, if necessary. The FBI will reimburse direct expenses including the following:

  • Salaries and benefits for up to nine laboratory employees

  • Space renovation required for mtDNA operations

  • Equipment and maintenance

  • Laboratory supplies, training, and program-related travel.

Partner laboratories will provide facilities, employees, and supervision for mtDNA casework. They will absorb indirect expenses, such as space rent, utilities, office supplies, waste disposal, and management and clerical overhead.

The program will benefit because the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the New Jersey State Police laboratories are moving into new facilities in the fall of 2003 that were designed for mtDNA analysis. In addition, previously awarded National Institute of Justice grants to the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the New Jersey State Police for mtDNA laboratory equipment will reduce start-up costs commensurately.

When fully operational, regional mtDNA laboratories will analyze approximately 120 cases annually. Cooperative agreements will allow host laboratories to retain 25 percent of capacity for internal allocation, with the remaining 75 percent to be allocated by the FBI in the service area. Over time, the FBI Laboratory will focus on federal mtDNA cases, with regional laboratories primarily addressing state and local demand.

The FBI Laboratory is building long-term partnerships with state and local forensic laboratories to provide critical forensic services that it cannot provide by itself. The initial term of agreement is three years but may be renewed indefinitely for two-year periods. All partner laboratories should be fully operational by September 2005, although some capacity may be available sooner as training is completed. Until then, however, there will be no immediate relief for the growing demand for no-cost forensic mtDNA analysis.