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U.S. urged to spend billion on DNA testing

Ashcroft wants tests on backlog of crime evidence

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration said Tuesday that it wanted to commit $1 billion to DNA testing in the next five years to stem a growing backlog of forensic evidence from crime scenes.

The plan, announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft, would also commit federal money for the first time for DNA testing of convicted felons who claim they are innocent, and it would expand the types of crimes included in a national DNA database.

Advocates for crime victims said the plan could help to crack numerous old cases. But groups that have fought for DNA testing to clear convicted inmates said they were skeptical because they believed that the plan gave the Justice Department too much power in determining which offenders should have access to testing.

The Justice Department wants to spend $232 million next fiscal year on DNA programs, an increase of 77 percent. That would be the first step in a five-year plan to increase funds by a total of $1 billion. The increase must be approved by Congress, which has been unwilling in recent years to make substantial new investments in DNA testing.

Scientists have made major strides in linking crime-scene evidence to the genetic codes of offenders, but the nation's police laboratories and law enforcement officials have often been unable to keep pace.

States have a backlog of 350,000 untested samples for rapes and homicides, Justice Department officials estimated, while another 200,000 to 300,000 samples taken from convicted offenders for possible matches have also gone untested.