Report 2004-114 Summary - June 2005

Department of Justice:

The Missing Persons DNA Program Cannot Process All the Requests It Has Received Before the Fee That Is Funding It Expires, and It Also Needs to Improve Some Management Controls

HIGHLIGHTS

Our review of the Department of Justice's Missing Persons DNA Program (missing persons program) revealed the following:

  • Created in January 2001, the missing persons program reached full operation in July 2004, which appears reasonable considering the issues it faced in establishing operations.
  • As of February 2005, the missing persons program had received 799 requests and completed DNA analysis for 261 of them, but is unlikely to complete testing for all requests before the fee supporting it expires.
  • It may be too soon to decide whether the existing fee supporting the missing persons program should be made permanent.
  • Several elements of the missing persons program are sound, but its management information and timekeeping databases, which could otherwise serve as valuable management tools, include inaccurate data.
  • The missing persons program is receiving the funding to which it is entitled and its costs are appropriate for a laboratory to incur.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Created in January 2001, the Missing Persons DNA Program (missing persons program), administered by the Department of Justice (Justice), helps local law enforcement agencies identify human remains and missing persons. To accomplish this, the program develops DNA profiles of unidentified human remains and of missing persons, comparing the two for possible matches. Since its inception, the missing persons program has assisted local law enforcement agencies in identifying 38 human remains or missing persons. Section 14251 of the California Penal Code established a $2 fee increase on death certificates to fund the program's activities. However, this section also includes a provision that eliminates the fee effective January 1, 2006, placing in jeopardy the program's future operation.

According to the missing persons program, it reached full operation in July 2004; this seems reasonable considering the issues it faced in establishing its operations, including a state hiring freeze from October 2001 through June 2004 and the comprehensive training regimen its staff require. Certain issues the program faced initially may be ongoing concerns, such as the length of time it takes to train staff and the low rates of pay.

As of the end of February 2005, the missing persons program had received 799 requests and had completed DNA analysis for 261 of them. However, unless conditions change, it is unlikely to complete its testing for the requests that are currently awaiting analysis before the fee supporting the program expires. Although both Justice and the missing persons program have attempted to secure federal funding, they have not been successful, given the limited funding available for this type of work.

Assembly Bill 940 proposes making the $2 fee increase on death certificates permanent, to fund the missing persons program indefinitely. However, it may be more prudent for the Legislature to extend the fee increase for a specific period of time and then reexamine the program's accomplishments and needs. Specifically, the missing persons program has amassed a fund balance of $3.9 million, and it needs to update its workload estimate. For these reasons, coupled with the fact that the program has only recently achieved full operation, it may be too soon to decide whether its funding should be made permanent.

Several elements of the missing persons program are sound, but the program needs to improve some of its managerial controls. Its training process prepares staff to perform necessary DNA analyses, and meets accreditation and industry standards. The program also effectively communicates its mission and services to local law enforcement agencies. However, we found significant problems with the accuracy of some of the data contained in the program's management information and timekeeping databases. With more accurate data, these databases could serve as valuable management tools.

The missing persons program is receiving the funding to which it is entitled. Since inception, it has received about $3 million annually—an amount that is reasonable based on the number of death certificates issued and its share of the related fee. Its single largest expenditure category is for facilities. Although these expenditures are significant, they appear reasonable considering the program's space needs, tenant improvements made, and the methodology Justice follows to determine the program's share of facilities costs. Personal services expenditures include costs for the program's full-time and part-time staff and for other personnel within the Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory that Justice apportions to the program. Based on our review, Justice's methodologies for apportioning these costs seem reasonable. The program's expenditures for other operating expenses and equipment include such items as chemicals, laboratory equipment rental, and supplies. All of these costs are appropriate for a laboratory to incur.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The missing persons program should review its workload estimate periodically to ensure that it is based on the most current data and reflects future program demands.

As the Legislature considers Assembly Bill 940 regarding the continuation of the $2 fee increase on death certificates, it may wish to extend the fee increase for a defined period of time and then reassess the missing persons program's accomplishments and needs.

To make certain that it has effective tools to help manage and measure the missing persons program, missing persons program management should take the necessary steps to ensure that its management information and timekeeping databases contain accurate and reliable data.

AGENCY COMMENTS

Justice and the missing persons program agree with our recommendations and are taking steps to implement them.


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