(Photo by Lucas Carter / The American Legion)

Pentagon POW/MIA effort to be overhauled

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced a plan to reorganize the Department of Defense (DoD) POW/MIA accounting effort. Hagel had ordered development of such a plan just a little over a month ago after repeated and strong criticisms of the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC).

In an early afternoon press conference on March 31, Hagel said that, “Finding and recovering and identifying the remains of the Americans missing from past conflicts … is not just a top priority for the Department of Defense, it is our responsibility and our obligation.”

He then announced the establishment of a “single accountable organization that has complete oversight of personnel accounting resources, research and operations.”

The new DoD agency will combine the duties formerly under JPAC with those of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) and include selected functions of the U.S. Air Force Life Sciences Laboratory. This consolidation of efforts aims to streamline the POW/MIA identification process, Hagel said.

The database and budgetary management will also be centralized and public and private partnerships with DoD would be forged, according to the plan, to better identify missing servicemembers. At the conclusion of his brief remarks, Hagel thanked the veterans service organization community for its longstanding and continued advocacy on behalf of missing service personnel and their families. “We will continue to do everything we can to account for and bring our missing personnel home to the United States,” Hagel said.

On Feb. 20, Hagel issued a memo directing DoD Acting Secretary Michael Lumpkin to develop a plan within 30 days “to increase to the maximum extent possible the numbers of missing service personnel accounted for annually, while ensuring timely and accurate information is provided their families.” The American Legion took part in that effort and provided recommendations that led to the March 31 announcement.

Last year, a Government Accountability Office report harshly criticized JPAC for gross mismanagement and waste. More recently, the command was taken to task for conducting what some considered misleading, staged arrival ceremonies in which flag-draped caskets were walked solemnly from inbound planes, though the caskets actually contained no remains of fallen servicemembers.

During The American Legion’s 2012 National Convention in Indianapolis, the nation’s largest veterans service organization adopted a wide-ranging resolution concerning the organization’s support of the Pentagon’s POW/MIA accounting effort, reiterating its position that all U.S. military personnel taken as prisoners or missing in action be quickly and accurately located, identified and repatriated and that federal funding be full to accomplish that goal.