Monitoring Financial Performance: An Approach for Forensic Crime Labs

Article excerpt

The pressure to improve performance is felt by managers in every industry. In difficult financial times, it becomes all the more important for managers to seek continuous improvements in the per- formance of their organizations. Forensic lab- oratories are not unlike other service organi- zations in this regard and must continually find ways to improve performance with limited resources. Applying metrics to key areas is a method for gauging success, for recognizing areas for improvement and for identifying potential risks. Nevertheless, routine accounting practices and standaidized cost terms have been slow to permeate this industry.

Metrics and budgetary analyses can be helpful, but until recently such calculations were not possible given the lack of fiscal and casework standardization within the forensic laboratory industry. Both auditors and CPA consultants can benefit themselves and the forensic laboratory service industry by using metrics to identify risk areas and improve and communicate lab performance.

Improving Cost Management

Forensic laboratories have benefited from an exponential increase in demand for services, partially driven by the success of television shows such as CSl and Dexter. In reality, though, the vast majority of laboratories are less-than-glamorous enterprises responsible to a city, county, state, or federal government with limited fiscal resources. Their mandate is generally to correctly process as much casework in a timely fashion as resources permit, which can be a difficult task. Therefore, the suggested metrics to follow should be related to increasing the cases processed while maintaining quality for the given budget. Those same metrics potentially offer forensic managers the proof they need to support claims for additional resources or policy changes.

At the highest level, good metrics tie the mission, vision, values, and goals of an organization to some kind of measureable outcome. Good metrics direct the attention and focus of the manager to achieving these goals, and often prompt changes in fiscal and organizational policy or practice. Unfortunately, the forensic laboratory industry does not follow a standard practice with respect to the collection and publication of fiscal and casework data that might assist in the management of resources. Two recent studies, however, offer some hope to the standardization of language and the development of tools to meet the goals of crime laboratories. The first study, Quadrupol (Project Quodrupol: Development of a Benchmarking Model for Forensic Laboratories, March 31, 2003, OISIN II programme of the Commission of the European Union, Contract 2001/OIS/066), established the groundwork and offered a standardized definition set for measurement of the inputs and outcomes of crime laboratories in Europe. The second study, US Foresight (Foresight NlJ - Measure, Preserve, Improve), adopted the basis of die Quadrupol study and extended the standardization to include connections between casework, operational budgets, and personnel detail for laboratories across North America.

Using the language of the studies above, as well as their budget and accounting data the authors examined the use of metrics as an analytical tool for operational measurement and improvement. First, the use of metrics across the industry is considered for comparison purposes and to introduce a standard technique to examine a laboratory's return on investment (ROI) and its component parts. Second, the use of metrics within a laboratory is considered a managerial tool to monitor efficiency and cost, as well as to communicate financial effectiveness.

Connecting Goals: Metrics Across the Industry

Public forensic laboratories are generally given the mandate to process all of the forensic requests that investigators send. Given their limited budgets, however, laboratory managers must prioritize among their requests and ration the resources at their disposal. …