The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the FBI’s forensic laboratory

Posted on 12/29/1995
In Forensic Science



The Federal Bureau of Investigation or FBI was created by Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte in 1908 to serve as the main investigative agency for the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ). When Bonaparte announced that there would be a new investigative unit, it was only a small group of unnamed Special Agents who would be given that role. Since then, the agency has grown into a much larger, internationally recognized agency. Read more about the history of the FBI here.

Today, the FBI investigates all criminal cases in the federal jurisdiction that have not been assigned by Congress to one of the thirty-two other federal law enforcement agencies as well as threats from foreign intelligence or terrorist groups. This includes “applicant matters; civil rights; counterterrorism; foreign counterintelligence; organized crime/drugs; violent crimes and major offenders; and financial crime.” View some of the most famous cases in the FBI archives here.

The FBI also provides investigative support and training to local and international law enforcement agencies. The agency often works closely with other law enforcement agencies in the exchange of information to further an investigation. The information gathered from local law enforcement agencies by the FBI is compiled into a set of statistics describing crime in the US and is known as the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). This data is used to enable all agencies involved with law enforcement to operate in a fashion that maximizes the management of resources and targets specific areas of crime.

The FBI Headquarters are located in Washington, D.C. The agency is headed by the Director, currently Robert S. Mueller, III, who is in charge of organizing the operations of the agency. The Director is appointed by the President for “a term not to exceed ten years.” The Senate must confirm the appointment.

Outside of Washington D.C., the FBI has fifty-six field offices, nearly 400 resident agencies or satellite offices, four field installations, and approximately 40 Legal Attaches, which are foreign liaison posts. These offices and the Headquarters combined employ more than 27,000 individuals.

From early in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The US Government recognized the need to centralize forensics and encourage forensic science. The FBI lab was started in 1932 and, in its first year of operation, performed nearly one thousand forensic examinations. Today the lab performs approximately one million examinations a year and has expanded to include extensive training programs, an annual international symposium, and a program for technical assistance to the forensic community.

The FBI laboratory

The FBI lab is actually a collection of related specialized laboratories and facilities including:

CODIS – The Combined DNA Index System is a program that facilitates the electronic sharing of information by outside state and local labs. This system provides forensic labs with software which enables them to access databases of convicted offenders, missing persons and unsolved crimes.  With this system, DNA profiles may be exchanged and compared between labs who are trying to link suspects to crime scenes.

NDIS – The National DNA Index System is part of the CODIS system and allows DNA profiles from convicted offenders to be accessible to forensic labs.

IAFIS – The newest database established by the FBI lab, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System allows latent fingerprint comparisons to be made between labs. IAFIS is the largest database of its kind.

In addition to technical support to state and local labs, the FBI lab offers procedure manuals that help law enforcement officials properly locate and collect physical evidence from a crime scene.  Details on how to report on evidence and photograph crime scenes, and submission of evidence are made available to investigators.  Guidelines for protecting the safety of investigators are also provided.

To visit the FBI Laboratory click here.

Finally, the FBI lab publishes current research and other information relevant to forensic science in a journal which is available online. To view the current issue, click here.

To view other publications of the FBI, click here.