Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program
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Program Description and Purpose
The Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program (the Coverdell program) awards grants to states and units of local government to help improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science and medical examiner/coroner services. Among other things, funds may be used to eliminate a backlog in the analysis of forensic evidence and to train and employ forensic laboratory personnel, as needed, to eliminate such a backlog. State Administering Agencies (SAAs) may apply for both "base" (formula) and competitive funds. Units of local government may apply for competitive funds.
A state or unit of local government that receives a Coverdell grant must use the grant for one or more of these three purposes:
- To carry out all or a substantial part of a program intended to improve the quality and timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services in the State, including those services provided by laboratories operated by the State and those operated by units of local government within the State.
- To eliminate a backlog in the analysis of forensic science evidence,
 including, among other things, a backlog with respect to firearms examination, latent prints, toxicology, controlled substances, forensic pathology, questioned documents, and trace evidence.
- To train, assist and employ forensic laboratory personnel as needed to eliminate such a backlog.
- To address emerging forensic science issues (such as statistics, contextual bias, and uncertainty of measurement) and emerging forensic science technology (such as high throughput automation, statistical software, and new types of instrumentation).
- To educate and train forensic pathologists.
- To fund medicolegal death investigation systems to facilitate accreditation of medical examiner and coroner offices and certification of medicolegal death investigators.
Read a discussion with crime laboratory directors about NIJ's capacity enhancement and backlog reduction programs (pdf, 27 pages).
Reports to Congress and Lists of Awards
 and units of local government may apply for NFSIA funds. States may be eligible for both "base" (formula) and competitive funds. Units of local government within States may be eligible for competitive funds and may apply directly to NIJ. Any State application for funding
must be submitted by the
Coverdell State Administering Agency (SAA). (Other interested state agencies or departments must coordinate with their respective SAAs.) Each applicant must satisfy the specific application requirements outlined in this announcement, the general requirements for NIJ and OJP grants, and all other applicable legal requirements.
The Coverdell law (at 42 U.S.C. § 3797k(4)) requires that, to request a grant, an applicant for Coverdell funds must submit:
- A certification and description regarding a plan for forensic science laboratories.
- A certification regarding use of generally accepted laboratory practices.
- A certification regarding forensic science laboratory accreditation.
- A certification and description regarding costs of new facilities.
- A certification regarding external investigations into allegations of serious negligence or misconduct. See below for important notes and guidance regarding this certification.
Applicants are expected to review the requirements of each certification carefully before determining whether the certification may be properly made. Any certification that is submitted must be executed by an official who is both familiar with the requirements of the certification and authorized to make the certification on behalf of the applicant agency (that is, the agency applying directly to NIJ).
Certifications must be made by using the templates provided in the solicitation for that fiscal year.
Certifications made on behalf of subrecipients of award funds — rather than certifications made on behalf of the agency applying directly to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) — are
not acceptable to satisfy the certification requirements.
In connection with the certification regarding external investigations described above, applicants
must provide, prior to receiving award funds, the name(s) of the existing “government entity” (or government entities). This information is to be provided as an attachment to the program narrative section of the application.
Please note that funds will not be made available to applicant agencies that fail to provide the necessary information.
Important Note on Referrals in Connection With Allegations of Serious Negligence or Serious Misconduct.
The highest standards of integrity in the practice of forensic science are critical to the enhancement of the administration of justice. We assume that recipients (and subrecipients) of Coverdell funds will make use of the process referenced in their certification as to external investigations and will refer allegations of serious negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of forensic results to government entities with an appropriate process in place to conduct independent external investigations, such as the government entities identified in the grant application.
For each fiscal year of an award, recipients will be required to report to the National Institute of Justice on an annual basis:
The number and nature of any such allegations.
Information on the referrals of such allegations (e.g., the government entity or entities to which referred, the date of referral).
The outcome of such referrals (if known as of the date of the report).
If any such allegations were not referred, the reason(s) for the non-referral.
Payments to recipients (including payments under future awards) may be withheld if the required information is not submitted on a timely basis.
Special Guidance on Certification Regarding External Investigations into Allegations of Serious Negligence or Misconduct
The certification regarding external investigations has a number of requirements, each of which must be satisfied before the certification may be made. The official authorized to make the certification on behalf of the applicant agency must review each of the statutory elements and this guidance carefully before determining whether a certification may be properly made. After reviewing the information and guidance provided here, the official, on behalf of the applicant agency, must determine whether:
government entity exists
- With an appropriate
process in place
- To conduct
independent, external investigations
- Into allegations of serious
affecting the integrity of the forensic results
- Committed by
any forensic laboratory system, medical examiner’s office, coroner’s office, law enforcement storage facility, or medical facility in the State
that will receive
portion of the grant amount.
Note: In making this certification, the certifying official is certifying that these requirements are satisfied not only with respect to the applicant itself but also with respect to each entity that will receive a portion of the grant amount. Certifying officials are advised that: (1) a false statement in the certification or in the grant application that it supports may be subject to criminal prosecution, including under 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and (2) Office of Justice Programs grants, including certifications provided in connection with such grants, are subject to review by the Office of Justice Programs and/or by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.
Expected Results and Outcomes
The result of Coverdell grants to applicant States should be a demonstrated improvement over current operations in the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services provided in the State, including services provided by laboratories operated by the State and services provided by laboratories operated by units of local government within the State. Reduction of forensic analysis backlogs is considered an improvement in timeliness of services. The result of Coverdell grants directly to units of local government should be a demonstrated improvement over current operations in the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services provided by the local jurisdiction.
Use of Funds
The types of expenses listed below generally may be paid with Coverdell funds:
Personnel. Funds may be used for forensic science or medical examiner/coroner personnel, overtime, fellowships, visiting scientists, interns, consultants, or contracted staff.
Computerization. Funds may be used to upgrade, replace, lease, or purchase computer hardware and software for forensic analyses and data management.
Laboratory equipment. Funds may be used to upgrade, lease, or purchase forensic laboratory or medical examiner/coroner equipment and instrumentation.
Supplies. Funds may be used to acquire forensic laboratory or medical examiner/coroner supplies.
Accreditation. Funds may be used to prepare for laboratory accreditation by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB), Forensic Quality Services (FQS), the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA), or other appropriate accrediting bodies. Funds also may be used for application and maintenance fees charged by appropriate accrediting bodies.
Education, training and certification. Funds may be used for appropriate internal and external training of staff that are directly and substantially involved in providing forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services. In appropriate cases, funds also may be used for fees charged by appropriate certifying bodies for certification of staff in specific forensic discipline areas. All education, training, and certification activities must be designed to improve the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services. The grant application should demonstrate that the proposed training or certification is directly related to the job position and duties of the individual(s) receiving the training or seeking certification.
Facilities. Funds may be used for program expenses relating to facilities, provided the expenses are directly attributable to improving the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services. Funds also may be used for renovation and/or construction undertaken as part of the applicant’s program to improve the quality and/or timeliness of forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services. See the specific year's solicitation to which you are applying for detailed on limitations on use of funds for costs of new facility.
Administrative expenses. Not more than 10 percent of the total amount of a Coverdell grant may be used for administrative expenses.
The following expenses that are not permitted:
- Expenses other than those listed above (including expenses for general law enforcement functions or non-forensic investigatory functions).
- Costs for any new facility that exceed the limits described above.
- Administrative expenses that exceed 10 percent of the total grant amount.
There is no state or local match required under the Coverdell program.
Allocation of Funds
“Base” funds for States
Approximately 85 percent of the funds available for Coverdell grants will be allocated among eligible States based on population. See the specific solicitation to which you are applying for the approximate amount for each eligible State.
Competitive funds for States and units of local government
Fifteen percent of the available funds will be allocated among States and units of local government through a competitive process. The average annual number of part 1 violent crimes reported by each State to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in prior years, existing resources, and current needs of the potential grant recipient will be considerations in award decisions.
Units of local government that provide forensic science or medical examiner/coroner services (whether through a forensic science laboratory, medical examiner’s office, or coroner’s office) may apply directly to NIJ for competitive funds. A State may apply through its SAA for competitive funds for forensic sciences improvements above and beyond those it can accomplish with its estimated amount of base funds.
Minimum awards to States
The Coverdell law sets a floor for the total amount an eligible applicant State will receive as its Coverdell grant. If the amount a State would otherwise receive as its total Coverdell grant (including both base funds and any competitive funds) is less than the minimum grant amount set by the Coverdell law, NIJ will increase that state’s total grant to the minimum grant amount.
All awards are subject to the availability of appropriated funds and to any modifications or additional requirements that may be imposed by law.
Please send any questions or comments to
[note 1] A backlog in the analysis of forensic science evidence exists if forensic evidence has been stored in a laboratory, medical examiner's office, coroner's office, law enforcement storage facility, or medical facility and has not been subjected to all appropriate forensic testing because of lack of resources or personnel.
[note 2] For purposes of the Coverdell program, the term “State” means each of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. For certain purposes, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are treated as one State.
Date Modified: May 1, 2018