District officials on Friday plan to announce a new director of the city’s troubled forensic lab, three months after the previous director was removed following a scathing review by a national accreditation body, which ultimately ordered the lab to suspend all of its DNA testing.
According to two city officials, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is expected to name Jenifer Smith as director of the District’s Department of Forensic Sciences, which houses the DNA lab. Smith is a retired FBI special agent and a former head of the FBI’s DNA laboratory, as well as a former head of the CIA’s biological technology center.
The lab opened in 2012 as part of a $220 million facility in Southwest Washington. In April, the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board determined in its audit that analysts at the lab were “not competent and were using inadequate procedures.” The authors of the audit, which District officials ordered, gave the lab 30 days to address the concerns.
Weeks after the report was released, Max M. Houck, the lab’s founding director, resigned. Houck was previously an FBI supervisor.
Most recently, Smith, who holds a doctorate in physiological chemistry, was contracted by the District as a consultant to oversee the implementation of new rules and procedures at the DNA lab as part of the efforts to be allowed to resume DNA testing.
For more than three months, prosecutors, police and others who use the lab have been sending evidence to private labs for DNA analysis, a substantial financial burden to taxpayers who paid for the District’s first independent forensic science department. DNA analysis makes up 21 percent of the lab’s operations, the third-largest percentage of work for the lab, behind firearm and fingerprint analysis.
In March, The Washington Post reported that District prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office alerted city officials to what they described as many errors with the DNA analysis performed at the lab, specifically involving DNA mixture cases, those in which more than one person’s DNA is present in the evidence.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said prosecutors reviewed more than 125 cases in which the lab performed DNA analysis. He said prosecutors did not identify any cases that resulted in wrongful convictions or unjust criminal charges.