This fiscal year – specifically since November – the Oversight Board has approved two requests from the government to reallocate budget items to the Bureau of Forensic Sciences (NCF, Spanish acronym), which increased by $ 4,884,253 the budget of the agency.
On the other hand, two other requests submitted during that period were denied due to the lack of information that would justify, according to the Board, the transfer of the items. The four requests totaled $ 8,880,953.
One of the requests approved was for the use of $ 3.3 million for specialized and scientific equipment and refrigerators for corpses storage.
The letter submitted by Raúl Maldonado, government Chief Financial Officer (CFO), before the Board on January 31 states that the NCF does not have the adequate equipment to carry out its functions and fulfill its responsibilities.
Four days later – on February 4 – the Executive Director of the Board Natalie Jaresko approved the request and ordered to transfer the $ 3.3 million in the custody of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Also on January 31, 2019, the NCF submitted another reapportionment request, but this time for $ 1,559,581.36, arguing that they urgently needed it to hire new personnel.
It was officially approved on February 15.
According to the letter published on the Board´s website, to meet the needs of the NCF they need more personnel.
Forensic chemists, pathologists, firearms examiners, digital evidence examiners and serologists, among other officials are in the list of specialized employees required.
In the letter, they detailed the problems the NCF is facing since these experts require a training that lasts between six months and two years and sometimes once the training concludes, they resign seeking for better job opportunities.
Surrounded by controversies
Since hurricane María hit the island in 2017, the NCF has been involved in multiple controversies due to the accumulation of corpses, lack of personnel, budget reduction and changes in its leadership.
Up to February 22, the NCF had 261 corpses in custody. About 100 corpses were waiting for an external evaluation or autopsy, according to figures offered by the agency. The maximum number of corpses they cam keep in the NCF internal morgue is 295.
More information requested
On January 31, the NCF requested the allocation of $ 3,918,700.25 to buy materials from the laboratories and contract external services. However, that request has not been approved.
The government based the request on the NCF essential work, since it´s the only forensic laboratory on the island that is responsible for preserving, analyzing and presenting the evidence gathered in its investigations.
“Currently, the NCF does not have adequate materials to carry out the functions and fulfill the ministerial responsibilities of the Bureau,” reads the document.
The request included outsourcing lab services to expedite the results of the “rape kits”, now called “safe kits”.
Currently, the Bureau has about 2,700 “safe kits” to analyze, some of which have been there since 2004.
The Safe (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam) Kit collects evidence related to sexual violence that occurred within the last 72 hours.
For the Board, the information was insufficient. “It is necessary for our common understanding of the situation to have detailed information on budget to actual spending for the first seven months of FY19 by object code, and a projection of the timing of hiring the new personnel over the remaining fiscal year,” Jaresko said in the letter addressed to Maldonado on February 13.
Senator Zoé Laboy, who has requested the $ 3 million for the NCF “safe kits”, said yesterday that she will insist on her request.
“I am going to send a letter to the Board asking whether the request was submitted and, Natalie Jaresko told me that there was no need to convince her,” said Laboy.
They filed another reapportionment request for $78,000 on payroll on November 30 but the Board denied it because the “request may affect rightsizing.”
Specifically, the money would be used to pay the salaries of six temporary employees hired under federal proposals.
According to Jaresko´s previous comments, the NCF had until February 5 to submit the required information. Yesterday, the status of this request remained “incomplete – information required” on the Board´s website.
During the last fiscal year, the Bureau made two other requests – one for a budget increase and another for reapportionment of funds – in May and June 2018 and they were approved for a total of $ 3,650,000.