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memo 02.12.2009 to TxDPS.doc

memo 02.12.2009 to TxDPS.doc

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Published by: sliterchewspens on Jul 30, 2011
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07/30/2011

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02/12/2009Dear Sirs:If you will please excuse the anonymity, I have some forensic biology relatedconcerns that could be grounds for immediate employment termination should myissues become public. I am seeking advice for a solution to a situation that hasbecome potentially very volatile for several forensic biologists in our lab (includingmyself) which could ultimately have career-ending and legal ramifications.I am a forensic biologist in a Texas Lab. During my training period (past 10 months),I have noticed that our SOP has a large number of technical flaws, scientific flaws,and procedural flaws which are sometimes contradictory to what is performed by theanalysts in the lab. That is...what serology analysts claim they are doing (i.e. what the protocol reads), isnot exactly what they are doing.Initially written in 2001, the procedures have not been altered or re-written exceptfor 4 Memos introducing new procedures (and removed old ones) in 2002 and 2003. Yet obvious errors still exist. For some procedures, the SOP instructs serologists touse the incorrect controls (e.g. The SOP states to use water as a negative controlwhen the scientifically correct negative control would be buffer only. Sadly, thisparticular page in our SOP is a photocopy from the validation studies, suggesting thatthe validation may not have been performed correctly.) For other procedures, theexact opposite of what is instructed in the SOP is being performed by the analysts(e.g. the SOP instructs to store in the freezer ALL samples from an autopsy kit. Inpractice, however, the analysts only store those samples that test positive.) And yetfor other procedures, the SOP is missing detailed instructions, leaving interpretationof the procedural steps to each analyst (e.g. the SOP instructs to QC Reagent X witha positive control swab, but there is no information in the SOP on how to prepare thepositive control swab or how our biological "standard" is qualified to be a"standard".) I've only mentioned a few errors, butthere are many, many more.Moreover, additional (or altered) procedures expected to be performed by analystshave been "verbally communicated" by Management (i.e. not officially introducedinto the SOP via Memo or email.) This method of changing or altering procedures hasalso extended to the analysts, each with their own personal "protocol improvement".A considerable amount of "protocol drift" exists in the lab with one analystperforming a common task slightly different than the next analyst. Over thegenerations of analysts and trainees, superfluous and arbitrary steps to procedureshave become mandatory while laboratory "rules" no longer have a logic or rationalreasoning for their enforcement. (The most common answer by a trainer as to why aspecific step or procedure is done is "...because that's the way we've always doneit.") This has lead to considerable confusion and frustration among the trainees as to theacceptable and correct lab procedures to follow when analyzing evidence,securingevidence, documenting or writing reports. At any given moment, a trainee can beaccused of violating lab protocol by either not performing a task as written in the SOP(because the trainee was told to do otherwise by a trainer), or not following theprocedures as taught by trainers (even though the SOP states otherwise.) Severalcurrent trainees in the lab are unsatisfied with their progress in training, and havebeen dubbed by other analysts (and Management) to be "unmotivated",
 
"argumentative", or have "bad attitudes". Two of the trainees have several yearsexperience from other ASCLD and ISO accredited labs. They are abhorred at thetraining program and daily operations in the lab. The Management has explained that the SOP was designed and written with "shadesof grey", allowing analyst's flexibility in their decisions during evidence examination.Also, official changes in the SOP which result in "clarity" or "specifics" could bedetrimental to the analysts from an (Expert Witness) testimonial point-of-view.Management, too, is guilty of not enforcing, or following, the Quality AssuranceProgram in regards to modifications of the SOP (and many other other rules statedwithin the QA/QC manuals.) Far too often, when an infraction of the QA/QC programby the management is reported (as a friendly reminder) to the management,the"shoot the messenger" tactic is applied. As a means of demonstrating authority, themanagement often offhandedly mention "insubordination" and threaten disciplinaryactions of "...up to, and including, termination". Because of this management style,the analysts often do not report incidences which could affect the work product. Itfosters an atmosphere where mistakes are covered up or blame is transferred toanother individual. Moral is often low.I have researched several other forensic lab's SOPs available to the online communityand I feel that ours is far below par. One might even suggest that the SOP we areusing does not currently meet (nor has it for many years) ASCLD standards. I havebeen told by management that our SOP has been audited several times by outsideagencies and deemed acceptable by the scientific community. Yet, strangely, thisyear's internal audit (lead by our newly hired Quality Manager) has uncoveredseveral procedural "issues" and prompted management’s sudden need to re-writethe SOP.From a legal standpoint, our SOP is discoverable. Therefore, an analyst serving as anExpert Witness in court can be questioned as to the details of what they didprocedurally while handling and analyzing evidence. If an analyst recounts specificdetails of a procedure performed during analysis, but contradictory steps are statedin the SOP (because the SOP had been changed "verbally" by the Managementwithout proper documentation), the analyst's professional ethics could be called intoquestion. The analyst could be characterized as a maverick, working outside the SOP,compromising evidence and biasing conclusions. The analyst's career as a forensicbiologist could end. Management has done nothing to aleviate the concerns of ananalyst in regards to giving erroneous testimony. The issues with the current SOP and Training Program have been presented to theManagement both verbally and in a formal document. Sadly, very little has changed.My apologies for remaining vague in names and details, but I feel that disclosingidentifying information at this time may get me reprisal from management orterminated from employment. Furthermore, being labeled a "whistleblower" oraccused of making false accusations may hinder my chances at finding newemployment in the field. This is a situation that I've never encountered before and Iam uncertain as to the correct way to approach it, ethically and legally.Is there an immediate course of action that I can take without jeopardizing myemployment, or career, as forensics biologists?Is there a way of presenting evidence of my concerns without disclosing my name?Can a third-party act as liaison?

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