Video Transcript: Solicitation Webinar — Research and Evaluation for the Testing and Interpretation of Physical Evidence in Publicly Funded Forensic Laboratories

Ms. Giovacchini: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s webinar: Evaluating Public Processes in Public Crime Labs.

We are here to discuss the solicitation, research and evaluation for the testing and interpretation of physical evidence in publically funded forensic laboratories. This webinar is hosted by the National Institute of Justice.

At this time, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Frances Scott, physical scientist with the National Institute of Justice.

Dr. Scott:  Thank you and good afternoon. And thank you all for participating in this webinar to discuss research and evaluation for the testing and interpretation of physical evidence in publicly funded forensic laboratories. As you may know, the solicitation posted on January 7 and it will close on April 6.

To give you an overview of what we’ll be discussing in this webinar, we’ll first go over the background and goals of the solicitation, recommendations for successful applications, application expectations and requirements, the review process, and the application checklist.

So, this solicitation is intended to improve the testing and processing of physical evidence, just as research into the process, not necessarily the underlying science of the testing. This is the second year of this solicitation and there have been several significant revisions since last year. Many of you may be familiar with another solicitation, the research and development in forensic science for criminal justice purposes solicitation.

That solicitation focuses on research into, among other things, emerging methods and instrumentation for eventual use in forensic science. This solicitation differs from that in the focus is on the current processes for handling physical evidence in actual forensic laboratories. This solicitation is specifically targeted for you, the forensic science practitioner. And this brings me to the first of our polling question and that is ‘How many of you have ever considered applying for research and development funds from the NIJ?’

Of the 20 that answered, 13, or two-thirds of you, indicate that you had considered applying for R&D funding previously from NIJ.

There are two goals for the solicitation and applicants must address one of these goals in order to be responsive to this solicitation. The first goal seeks to improve existing laboratory processes through scientific research and development. Improvements could be to efficiency, through time or cost savings, or reliability. For example, an applicant could determine what acceptance criteria for mass spectra or IR would result in an acceptable rate of accuracy or research the scheme he uses for routine drug screening.

The results of such research could benefit the entire forensic science community. The second goal seeks to compare emerging methods with existing laboratory practices. Again, to determine if the emerging methods improve reliability, efficiency, or cost savings. This can benefit other labs, who could then make an informed decision as to whether to commit to a new instrumental method.

We know that there are challenges to performing research and development in the public lab. The primary mission of publicly-funded forensic laboratories is processing casework. We are aware that few such labs have dedicated research divisions. In addition, to avoid supplanting, existing lab personnel generally must perform research work during overtime hours. However, forensic lab practitioners are in the best position to know the problems facing them in their processes.

And so, this brings me to my second poll question. So, two-thirds of those who answered said they had considered applying for R&D funding, but now I’d like to ask ‘How many of you had actually applied for R&D funding from NIJ in the past?’

And the results were pretty clear on this. Of the 18 who answered, only three had applied for R&D funding and 15 did not apply. So that leads me to question three. What is the biggest reason you have not applied for funding? The number one answer was no dedicated research unit or dedicated person. Tied for the second answer was the proposed research would be too applied and lack of internal support resources, and also another reason was the unity of government authority does not prioritize research. So, this pretty much explains why we developed this particular solicitation with your particular challenges in mind.

So, we have some recommendations to overcome some of those obstacles. One significant change to this year’s solicitation is the strong recommendation to hire a dedicated researcher. A postdoctoral fellow is recommended, but any scientist with a strong research background who does not have a casework requirement would be appropriate. This also provides one avenue in the CSS recommendation that postdoctoral projects be funded to facilitate translation of research into forensic science practice.

We leave the mechanism of such a position to you: contract, short-term hire, etc. By designating the lion’s share of the actual work to dedicated personnel, case working scientists need only provide oversight and input. The research scientist can provide input into the appropriate design of the research project to include appropriate statistical power. If at all possible, we strongly encourage you to attempt to get input from such a person during the writing of your application to ensure the strength of your proposal.

Another recommendation, in order to provide strong, translatable research, every effort should be made to validate the research by using actual casework samples. If this is not possible, proposals should include a detailed description of how realistic samples will be generated as the power of this research is in its translatability to actual current forensic science practices.

A note on what will not be funded. As you can see under the what will not be funded section is proposals primarily to purchase equipment, materials, software, or supplies or to contract or purchase training validation or other services that will complete the majority of the proposed research project. However, a budget may include these items if they are necessary to conduct research, development, demonstration, evaluation, or analysis. So, you can see the purchase of equipment is not merely prohibited if the proposal makes a good case that for example, the purchase of an emerging piece of instrumentation will allow the applicant to perform comprehensive comparison of this instrumental method to existing methods. For example, comparing GCIR to IR for testing drugs and disseminate the results of this evaluation to the community at large, such that their purchases and policies be impacted, the purchase of some equipment might be considered allowable.

On the other hand, if the proposal is for effectively a pass through requesting that an outside vendor perform validation of an existing piece of interpretation or if the purchase request is not contained within the framework of a strong research proposal, the proposal would likely be deemed unresponsive to the solicitation under this what will not be funded item.

NIJ expects that scholarly products will result from awards under this solicitation, generally in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles and presentations at appropriate scientific conferences. The strength of this research lies in disseminating the results to the forensic science community at large. NIJ hopes that by funding research within public forensic labs, other labs may benefit immediately from this very concrete translatable research in their own processes. These are the requirements outline in the solicitation. The elements that every application must include. I encourage you to see the solicitation for guidance and details on each of these items, but I will bring to your attention that there is a 14 page limit to the program narrative and of those 14 pages, at least seven pages must be devoted to program design.

Once applications are received, they will undergo internal and external review. We will first internally scan for basic minimum requirements. These are the program narrative, the budget detail worksheet, the budget narrative, ABC’s or resumes of key personnel and proof of your forensic lab accreditation. Once an application has passed the screen for basic minimum requirements, it will be reviewed externally by appropriate peer reviewers. There will be three reviewers per application in most cases and they will be drawn from both practitioners and researchers. Once the external peer review is complete NIJ scientific staff and leadership will internally review the results and ultimately all funding decisions are at the discretion of the NIJ director.

The selection criteria upon which these applications will be evaluated are listed here. You can see

there, statement of the problem, project design and implementation, which carries the most weight, potential impact and capabilities and competencies. Reviewers may comment on the budget and plan for dissemination to broader audiences, but these are not scored. Here's a screenshot showing the application checklist which is found on pages 29 to 30 of the solicitation. If you want to read some tips on how to make your proposal competitive, you can read the current Director's Corner on nij.gov. Search NIJ.gov using the keywords ‘directors corner competitive’ and it should be your first result. With that I will open it up to questions in a moment but first I would like to note that we have a dedicated resource to answer your questions related to the solicitation at the National Criminal Justice Reference Service or NCJRS and as you can see here they can be reached via email, phone, fax or webchat.

So with that, we will open it up for Q&A.

Mr. Spanbauer: We do have one question. You indicated that instruments are allowable.  Can you give us more direction on that if the instrument is part of the project?

Frances Scott: Yeah, so again, if the instrument is, if the purchase of the instrument is necessary to conduct he the research and the research proposal itself then that would be allowable. However, if it’s

just asking to purchase the equipment that would likely not fall within the solicitation because it would not address one of the two goals.

Mr. Spanbauer: Thank you, Frances. Again, we have a second question. What were the previous grants that were approved for this grant?

Dr. Scott: So, the list of those grants is on NIJ.gov and I’m looking it up right now to get you the website for that. That abstract for our funded grants are posted on NIJ.gov. You can see the proposals that were funded last year.

Mr. Spanbauer: Again, in the same vain, we have a question. “How many proposals will be funded?”

Dr. Scott: We hope to fund all strong research proposals under the solicitation, so we

do not have a set number of awards that will be made. That will be based on the available funding and the strength of the proposals received.

Mr. Spanbauer: We have a follow up question to the instrumentation question. Is there a limit on the purchase price for the instrument?

Dr. Scott: No.

Mr. Spanbauer: We have a follow up. In regard to the previous project. None of them were very interesting to us. Are the results available or the methods developed, are they available to us?

Dr. Scott: So, those projects were just funded and just began work no earlier than January

1st of this year so I don't imagine that they have, if we’re speaking of the public lab solicitation, so those awards are only about two months in and it is our intention to disseminate the results of those projects as they become available.

Mr. Spanbauer: Again we have another question. What is the timeline for this project?

Dr. Scott: That’s a great question. And it’s dependent upon the projects that you choose to do.

We typically fund projects that are in the 1 to 3 year range and we would not typically fund something that was beyond a five year time frame.

Mr. Spanbauer: We have another question regarding the post doc. Are there resources that connect us with

post doc candidates?

Dr. Scott: We do not have any. I’m sure there are resources, there aren’t any specific to NIJ, so that would be more within your professional organization or within the universities near you.

Mr. Spanbauer: Ok, we have another question. Understanding that a dedicated researcher is preferred, what advice can you offer for utilizing current laboratory personnel on a R&D project to avoid supplanting?

Dr. Scott: That’s a complex question and goes pretty much beyond the scope of my scientific knowledge because it’s more than accounting and lawyer kind of question and I’m very nervous about answering those. What we’ll do is we’ll take that and answer that and post it along with the webinar in a few days.

It looks like we have a question about our indirect costs allowable. And indirect costs are allowable to the extent that you have a current federally approved indirect cost rate. This requirement does not apply to units of local government. If you do not have an approved rate, you may request one through your contact federal agency, which will review all documents and approve a rate for the applicant organization or costs may be allocated in the direct cost categories if your accounting software permits.

If DOJ is the cognitive federal agency, you can see the solicitation for where to submit a direct cost proposal.

Mr. Spanbauer: Ok, we have another question in the chat box. Will applicants get a plus factor if they collaborate with other accredited labs or university education program?

Dr. Scott: Not a plus factor as such, although obviously a strong research proposal will stand a better chance of being funded.

Mr. Spanbauer: Here, you have another question. What if both recipients and subrecipients research partners build indirect costs into their proposal?

Dr. Scott: There is no cap on indirect cost, except they must follow the section about indirect cost rate within the solicitation.

Mr. Spanbauer: Ok, then we have another question. If the project is done in phases, what would be the requirement of each phase?

Dr. Scott: The requirement in terms of what exactly? I am not following what the question is. Reporting. Ahh, reporting requirements are always the same. There will be a semi-annual progress reports, as well as a final deliverable report.

Mr. Spanbauer: We have another question. Does the grant fund all at once or can we divide it into several fiscal years?

Dr. Scott:  Funding is released all at once in terms of its availability. So, the entire project that we choose to fund will be funded at once. Drawdowns are a separate issue within, so it can cross fiscal years.

I’ll give a few more seconds for anybody that still has lingering questions. It’s good to get them typed in. I don’t want to hang everybody up if we covered the questions that everybody has right now. Again, if you think of a question after the webinar, you always have that NCJRS resource and you’ll get a speedy response to any questions you have.

Alright, so I would like to thank you all again for your participation in this webinar and please do feel free to use the NCJRS resource if you have further questions about the solicitation. And I do hope that many of you will consider applying for the solicitation.

Date Modified: April 6, 2016