Washington, July 16, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s decision to restructure department agencies that recover and identify Americans who were prisoners of war and missing in action represents changes that were necessary, a senior defense official said today.
“The decisions are based on dispassionate analytical assessments and informed by feedback from families and here in the U.S. Congress,” Michael D. Lumpkin, acting undersecretary of defense for policy told the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee. He said the secretary’s decisions were intended to address deficiencies in process, workplace culture as well as organizational structure.
Recognizing that “sweeping changes” were necessary, Lumpkin said Hagel made his decisions based on careful consideration of reviews from the Government Accountability Office, DoD’s cost Assessment and program evaluation office, independent assessments, DoD inspector general comments, veteran service organizations, families as well as input from the workforce.
“Secretary Hagel directed the establishment of a new defense agency that combines the functions of the [Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office], the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and select functions of the Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory,” he said. “He directed that an armed forces medical examiner will be the single identification authority, making the process for past and current identifications the same, and [to] oversee scientific operations in the new agency.”
DoD will work with Congress, he said, to realign funding for this mission into a single budget, allowing for greater flexibility and ability to respond more effectively.
To improve the search, recovery and identification process, Lumpkin said, DoD will implement a centralized database and case management system containing all missing service personnel’s information.
“The department is also exploring options to make this data more easily and readily available to families,” he said. “Importantly, Secretary Hagel directed the department develop proposals for expanding public-private partnerships in identifying our missing to leverage the capabilities of organizations outside of government that responsibly work to account for our missing.”
Consolidating the organizations that work on past-conflict personnel accounting is necessary, Lumpkin said, but is not singularly sufficient for the changes the department seeks for families of missing personnel.
At the same hearing, Jamie Morin, DoD’s director of cost assessment and program evaluation told lawmakers “our study confirmed many of the findings of the GAO report and extended on them in some respects,” and that top-level leadership attention is needed to address personnel accounting issues and “my assessment is that is exactly what’s happening.”
Lumpkin noted Hagel’s decisions are “emblematic of the cultural and processes changes that must happen for us to be much more successful in fully accounting for personnel missing from past conflicts.”
“Some of these decisions, particularly on the role of the medical examiner, are significant departures from how the department has operated in the past,” he said. Implementation will require continued support for change from within DoD and Congress, he added.
Hagel has a long-standing personal interest in this important mission, Lumpkin said, and feels compelled to improve DoD’s operations and support.
“I have welcomed the time I’ve spent working on this noble mission and have appreciated working with the committee and others in Congress to more effectively account for our missing personnel and ensure their families receive timely and accurate information,” Lumpkin said.