For Washington's new independent forensic sciences department and laboratory, which launched in October, the honeymoon period appears to be over. Appearing before the D.C. Council last week for the agency's first-ever annual performance oversight hearing, Director Max Houck faced questions about the lab's efficiency, communication with other law enforcement agencies, and management of the transition to independent forensic testing.
The $220 million facility in Southwest Washington is home to the forensic sciences lab, public health lab, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, although only the forensic sciences and public health labs fall under the control of the newly created Department of Forensic Sciences. The department and lab were designed to make forensic testing independent of law enforcement, a key recommendation of a 2009 report on forensic science by the National Research Council of the National Academies.
During the oversight hearing on February 27, Houck said the department was making good progress in hiring and reorganizing how the city managed forensic testing. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chair of the judiciary and public safety committee, asked about previous testimony from D.C. police Chief Cathy Lanier that some testing was taking longer to complete, pointing out that the state-of-the-art lab was built with the expectation that it would speed up investigations. Houck said that he expected turnaround times to improve as they figured out lab procedures and protocols.