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Senators Urge Defense Secretary to Take Action on POW/MIA Accounting Failures

In letter to Secretary Hagel, McCaskill and Ayotte request update on DoD's efforts to implement recommendations

Sep 19, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following last month's hearing to investigate serious problems within the Department of Defense organizations responsible for finding and bringing home our fallen heroes, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) are urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to address these failures and provide information about the Pentagon's efforts to implement recommendations to resolve management and oversight problems.

At a Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee hearing on August 1, Senators McCaskill and Ayotte questioned Pentagon officials regarding reports of mismanagement and internal divisions between JPAC and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). Both Senators expressed deep concern that jurisdictional infighting, poor organizational structure, and lack of leadership were hindering the Department's mission to find, identify, and bring home the remains of America's fallen heroes.

"The hearing revealed that the Department has never had a comprehensive plan to delineate the responsibilities and roles of the components within the accounting community," the Senators wrote in their letter to Secretary Hagel. "While we were encouraged to hear that DMPO and JPAC have finally begun work on the long overdue plan, we were concerned to hear that the plan was still in ‘coordination.' We were also troubled to learn that the Department's approach to accounting may be doing families more harm than good by failing to provide them with a realistic assessment of the possibility of identifying missing service members."

In their letter to Secretary Hagel, McCaskill and Ayotte also expressed concerns about reports of alleged retaliation and hostile treatment toward employers who reported problems within the accounting command, and said they would urge the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General to review whistleblower complaints.

MCCASKILL/AYOTTE LETTER TO SECRETARY HAGEL:

September 13, 2013

The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Mr. Secretary:

On August 1, 2013, the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight held a hearing entitled, "Mismanagement of POW/MIA Accounting." The hearing reviewed the Department's financial management and oversight of its accounting mission, including the roles and responsibilities of the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Acting Accounting Command (JPAC), the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Person Personnel Office (DPMO), the Central Identification Laboratory (CIL), and the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL). The hearing also examined the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) recent report on accounting management[1] and a report conducted by a fellow employed by JPAC.

The hearing revealed that the Department has never had a comprehensive plan to delineate the responsibilities and roles of the components within the accounting community. While we were encouraged to hear that DMPO and JPAC have finally begun work on the long overdue plan, we were concerned to hear that the plan was still in "coordination." We were also troubled to learn that the Department's approach to accounting may be doing families more harm than good by failing to provide them with a realistic assessment of the possibility of identifying missing service members.

We understand that the Department has mostly concurred with GAO's recommendations to improve its organizational structure and address communication deficiencies among components. If implemented, these recommendations may substantially improve the management and oversight of the accounting mission. We therefore request that the Department provide detailed information about its plan for implementation of the recommendations, to include dates that the recommendations are expected to be fully implemented. We are particularly concerned about the need for a unified chain of command for the entire community and request that the Department provide detailed information about plans for reorganization. We also request that the Department provide a justification for any GAO recommendation that the Department does not plan to implement.

In addition, the Subcommittee has heard from numerous current and former employees from within the accounting community who described the accounting components as hostile work environments, rife with allegations of retaliation and discrimination against employees who reported problems.

The Subcommittee takes whistleblower complaints seriously and will be urging the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General to review these matters. We are also seeking your assurance that you will ensure that these allegations are investigated, and that if claims of whistleblower retaliation are substantiated that the Department will take appropriate action.

Congress has devoted substantial additional resources in recent years to the accounting community, and we expect the accounting community to use these resources responsibly and efficiently to achieve measurable progress toward the accounting goals.

The jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight is set forth in Senate Rule XXV clause 1(k); Senate Resolution 445 section 101 (108th Congress); and Senate Resolution 64 (113th Congress).

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