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June 19, 2018
The Houston Forensic Science Center is planning to send most incoming DNA work to
a private lab over about 10 months as it eliminates a backlog and builds a sustainable
process that helps avoid future backlogs.
A request for proposals has been issued and the goal will be to begin outsourcing DNA
work in the next two months. HFSC estimates it will cost about $2 million to complete
the project, half of it funded by federal grants.
“HFSC, like many labs across the country, has long struggled with backlogs in its DNA
section,” said Dr. Peter Stout, HFSC’s CEO and president. “Our plan is to
simultaneously eliminate a longstanding backlog while building a sustainable, efficient
process that allows for an average 30-day turnaround time on DNA work.”
HFSC’s goal is to complete analysis in all disciplines within 30 days of a request being
made. Anything over 30 days old is considered backlogged.
The forensic biology/DNA section currently has nearly 950 requests, including about
200 sexual assault kits, that are more than 30 days old. The laboratory work on the rape
kits has been completed but is awaiting data analysis.
After HFSC selects a private laboratory or laboratories to do incoming DNA work, it
will launch a multi-pronged plan that will last about 10 months.
The plan includes the following components:
1) Most incoming DNA work will be sent to a private lab for completion. Priority
DNA cases identified by the Houston Police Department as urgent will continue
to be completed in-house.
2) Over the next 10 months, HFSC forensic biology staff will be cross-trained to
perform all three steps in the DNA testing process. Currently, HFSC biology staff
are each trained to perform one part of the three-step process, and fewer than 10
analysts are authorized to do the final, time-consuming data analysis step. Cross-training will help alleviate and prevent future delays, especially in data analysis,
where HFSC has historically experienced bottlenecks.
3) While training and outsourcing are ongoing, those HFSC biology staff members
who are already authorized to perform DNA data analysis will focus on
completing the backlogged cases. Nearly all the laboratory work has been
performed on HFSC’s backlogged DNA cases. All that remains is the final step,
the data analysis.
“In this case, an investment on the front end will alleviate backlogs going forward,”
said Dr. Stout. “Our goal is to provide stakeholders and Houstonians with a quality,
timely forensic result, and we are building a process that allows us to do that.”
HFSC is a local government corporation that provides forensic services to the City of
Houston and other local agencies. HFSC is overseen by a Board of Directors appointed
by the Mayor of Houston and confirmed by the Houston City Council. Its management
structure is designed to be responsive to a 2009 recommendation by the National
Academy of Sciences that called for crime laboratories to be independent of law
enforcement and prosecutorial branches of government.
HFSC operates in seven forensic disciplines.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Director of Communications/PIO


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