NIJ's Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences

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Overview of the Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences

NIJ is the federal government’s lead agency for forensic science research and development as well as the administration of programs that facilitates training, improves laboratory efficiency and reduces backlogs. The mission of NIJ's Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences is to improve the quality and practice of forensic science through innovative solutions that support research and development, testing and evaluation, technology, information exchange and the development of training resources for the criminal justice community.

Through the research, development, testing and evaluation process, we provide direct support to crime laboratories and law enforcement agencies to increase their capacity to process high-volume cases and provide needed training in new technologies.

With highly qualified personnel and strong ties to the community, NIJ's Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences plays a leadership role in directing efforts to address the needs of our nation’s forensic science community.

Research and Development Goals

Our research and development efforts focus on three primary goals:

  • Expand the information that can be extracted from traditional types of forensic evidence, including DNA, and quantify its evidentiary value.
  • Develop reliable and widely applicable tools and technologies that allow faster, cheaper and less labor-intensive identification, collection, preservation and analysis of forensic evidence of all kinds and reduce existing case backlogs. 
  • Strengthen the scientific basis of the forensic science disciplines.

Investigative and Forensic Science Programs

  • The Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program — this program provides funding to state and local crime laboratories and medical examiners' offices to improve the quality, timeliness, and credibility of forensic science or medical examiner services.
    Learn more about the Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program
  • DNA Backlog Reduction Program — the goal of this program is to assist eligible States and units of local government to process, record, screen, and analyze forensic DNA and/or DNA database samples, and to increase the capacity of public forensic DNA and DNA database laboratories to process more DNA samples, thereby helping to reduce the number of forensic DNA and DNA database samples awaiting analysis. The DNA Backlog Reduction Program replaced the Convicted Offender and/or Arrestee DNA Backlog Reduction Program (fiscal year 05-10), the objective of which was to accelerate the analysis of convicted offender and/or arrestee DNA samples collected by States pursuant to applicable law for databasing purposes in order to provide timely Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)­ compatible data for State and national DNA databases. Funds were to be used by a State's designated, existing and accredited DNA database laboratory to reduce the DNA database sample backlog by providing assistance for in-house sample analysis, sending samples for analysis by an accredited fee-for-service lab, or for data review of generated profiles.
    Learn more about the DNA Backlog Reduction Program.
  • Forensic Science Research and Development — the demand for innovative tools and technologies in all areas of forensic science, including DNA testing, far exceed the current capabilities of the field. To help meet that demand, OIFS has funded forensic science research and development projects for over a decade. OIFS funds research to improve the understanding of the accuracy, reliability, and measurement validity of forensic science disciplines.
    Learn more about the Forensic Science Research and Development.
  • Forensic DNA Unit Efficiency Improvement — under this program, we funded novel and innovative methodologies for improving the efficiency and capacity of public forensic DNA laboratories through the development and adoption of an improved laboratory process. OIFS’ objective is to publish successful, carefully evaluated, and novel efficiency improvement methodologies as models to be considered by other forensic science laboratories.
    Learn more about the Forensic DNA Unit Efficiency Program.
  • Forensic Science Training Program — the goal of the Forensic Science Training Program is to increase the number of no-cost educational opportunities for public crime laboratory personnel and practitioners in forensic science disciplines and provide forensic science training to other relevant criminal justice partners.
    Learn more about the Forensic Science Training Program and see available courses.
  • Postconviction DNA Testing — since the advent of forensic DNA analysis, a number of people convicted of crimes have been subsequently exonerated through DNA analysis of crime scene evidence that was not tested at the time of trial. New technologies and methods for DNA analysis have improved our ability to successfully analyze aged, degraded or otherwise compromised evidence. Now samples once thought to be unsuitable for testing may yield DNA profiles. Grant awards made under this program can be used to help defray the costs associated with post-conviction DNA testing of certain crimes in which actual innocence might be demonstrated. Funds typically may be used to review such post-conviction cases and to locate and analyze biological evidence associated with these cases.
    Learn more about Postconviction DNA Testing.
  • Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program — the goal of this program is to award states and units of local government funds to identify, review, and investigate "violent crime cold cases" that have the potential to be solved using DNA analysis and to locate and analyze biological evidence associated with these cases. Advances in DNA technologies have substantially increased the successful DNA analysis of aged, degraded, limited, or otherwise compromised biological evidence and, as a result, crime scene samples once thought unsuitable for testing, or samples that previously generated inconclusive results, may now be successfully analyzed.
    Learn more about the Solving Cold Cases with DNA Program.
  • Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing — DNA technology can provide valuable information to assist in determining the source of unidentified human remains. In recent years, newer DNA technologies have substantially increased the successful analysis of aged, degraded, limited, or otherwise compromised biological evidence. As a result, biological samples, including skeletal remains, once thought to be unsuitable for testing, may now yield DNA profiles. Additionally, samples that previously generated inconclusive DNA results may now be amenable to reanalysis using newer methods. The goals of this program are to assist eligible entities in performing DNA analysis on unidentified human remains and/or reference samples to support the efforts of States and units of local government to identify missing persons and to enter the resulting DNA profiles into the FBI's National DNA Index System using the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
    Learn more about Using DNA Technology to Identify the Missing.

NIJ's Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences also oversees the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence and the National Missing and Unidentified Person System (NamUs):

  • The Forensic Technology Center of Excellence supports NIJ's research, development, testing and evaluation process by providing scientific and technical support to OIFS’ research and development efforts; supporting the demonstration, transfer and adoption of appropriate technology into practice by crime laboratories, forensic service providers, and law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies; assisting in the development and dissemination of technology guidelines and standards; providing technology assistance, information, and support to law enforcement and other appropriate criminal justice agencies; and providing access to resources for research, education and outreach in the forensic science and criminal justice community.
  • The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records. NamUs is a free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials, and the general public from all over the country in hopes of resolving these cases.
Date Modified: February 9, 2012