A lobbying firm with connections to the Department of Justice and DNA testing companies has helped drive expanded use of DNA evidence, the investigative Web site Pro Publica finds.
The firm, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs,has close ties to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Pro-Publica says. Its vice president is Christopher Asplen, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia specializing in DNA. According to his bio, he served as executive director of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence under Attorneys General Janet Reno and John Ashcroft. The commission is part of the National Institute of Justice under the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs..
From the story:
The firm, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, lobbies the Justice Department and lawmakers on behalf of the world’s leading producer of DNA testing equipment. Despite that relationship, the Justice Department awarded Gordon Thomas Honeywell a no-bid grant in 2002 to do a key study (PDF) on backlogs that has helped shape the government’s DNA policies — policies that have benefitted the firm’s private clients.
The firm later worked on four additional DNA-related projects for the federal government. All of them were commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, or NIJ, the research arm of the Justice Department that recently came under fire for its lax oversight (PDF) of the nation’s crime labs.
But Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is skeptical. At his direction, the Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating whether NIJ awards its grants fairly and openly.
None of Gordon Thomas Honeywell’s employees are forensic scientists, but the firm’s credentials were well known to NIJ. A Gordon Thomas Honeywell vice-president, Christopher Asplen, spent four years at the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in DNA. And on three of its government assignments, the firm has partnered with a Florida nonprofit that is led by a former NIJ employee.
Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Oliver said the government has hired Gordon Thomas Honeywell “to take advantage of their expertise in DNA policy” — and not because of the firm’s ties to NIJ.