MIA Facts Site

The 2015 Re-Organization:
Comments and a Prediction

 

At the end of March 2014, SECDEF Hagel announced a "reorganization" of the DoD POW/MIA accounting effort.   Hagel named Michael Lumpkin (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operation/Low Intensity Conflict, Performing Duties, of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy)  as the man to head the reorganization effort. Lumpkin promised a new day, with transparency in the process and equal treatment of all POW/MIA family organizations.

Shortly thereafter the Personnel Accounting Command Task Force (PACT) stood up for an 18-month mission. Heading the PACT team is Alisa Stack. Among the team's tasks was "working with all POW/MIA family groups to gain input on how best to improve the POW/MIA accounting effort."

Stack and DoD then contracted with The Clearing, a Washington D.C., consulting firm whose expertise is the reorganization of dysfunctional operations.  The Clearing came on the scene the same as every other consultant I've ever heard:  "The families are the customer" and the "families are the stakeholders" and the new organization should "serve the families.

The Clearing cranked up, engaging with POW/MIA family members and organizations, to include weekly group conference calls with the leadership of the five POW/MIA family groups.  I can't figure out which five groups we are talking about; nevertheless, one family group declined further participation after the first call.  The weekly calls with the four remaining groups continued.

I did hear some rumors of what the reorganization might include.  Such as

bullet DoD "working with" private groups to recover remains.  Bad idea.  Some of the "private groups" are nutty as a PortaPotty at a peanut festival.  How would DoD decide which groups to work with and which to ignore.
bulletDitto for a rumored proposal about closer cooperation between family groups and DoD.  There is already very close cooperation between reasonable family groups and DoD.  On the other hand, certain "family" groups and groups of "concerned citizens" are nutty and should be ignored.  How to tell the difference?

Then, in late July 2014, Michael Lumpkin was gone, replaced by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth. PACT and The Clearing sort of slowly faded from view.

31 October 2014.  DoD held a conference call for POW/MIA family groups and Veterans Organizations. Attendees voice their main complaint, a perceived lack of transparency in the reorganization process. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel promised total transparency saying, "Transparency starts today."

Minutes later Secretary Hagel announces a pause in the reorganization effort to allow Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth to catch up and see where the reorganization stands.

In early December, one of the minor family groups -- one that still beats the drum for live prisoners being held in SEAsia talked with Ms. Wormuth who assured them DoD will make no decisions without consulting the family groups.

9 January 2015.  USD (Policy) Wormuth holds a conference call for POW/MIA family groups, and veterans' organizations in which she announced several decisions, including:

bulletAppointment of an Interim Director for the new organization.
bulletAppointment of a Deputy Director and a Senior Advisor to assist in the reorganization.
bulletThe stand-down of PACT.
bulletNo mention of The Clearing.

The interim director, Admiral Franken, admitted he knew nothing about the MIA issue.

Got that?  So -- here we are in February 2015 with some kind of organization within DoD responsible for policy guidance and actions on the MIA issue.  I refuse to say the "POW/MIA" issue because we are not talking about prisoners of war.  In fact, we really aren't talking about "Missing In Action."  No one is missing.  Not from Vietnam, WW II, Korea, the Cold War, or any combat actions since the end of the Vietnam War.  No one is missing.  We know what happened to them, we have not been able to recover remains.

 So -- what happened?  Here's my take on it. 

FIRST.   I suspect SECDEF Hagel was jammed up by the life-long Executive Director of the National League of Families of Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.  Hagel is a Republican and the League's ED is a big Republican with deep contacts within the GOP hierarchy.  I suspect she got a one-one-one with him, fed him her usual crap, and he bolted.

 SECOND.  Hagel went into the "Ready, Fire, Aim" mode and made a lot of noise about the MIA issue.  Because his information came almost 100% from the League's Director, he didn't have the facts at hand.  Hagel appointed some heavy firepower to look into things, including a consulting firm.  Hagel's people talked to a lot of  "family groups," most of whom are overrun with "cover-up-and-conspiracy" believers who no doubt fed the consultants the usual nonsense about "prisoners still alive in Hanoi," "the government is withholding information." "the government ignores family members," and other specious charges. 

THIRD.  After a few months of gathering facts, Hagel's people realized there is nothing much to the "MIA issue."  It's a graves registration matter -- trying to collect remains from old battlefields; trying to dig up information out of archives in other countries; and, trying to identify any remains that are recovered.  I suspect Hagel's people realized that what DoD is doing now, and has been doing for years, is on target and, while a bit of reorganization may be in order, things are not broken.  I suspect Hagel's people also learned that nothing is withheld from the families -- if DoD has a scrap of information about a missing man, the family has that information also. 

FOURTH.  I suspect SECDEF's team discovered the overlap and duplication of effortr in the current structure with several different groups working on various aspect of the matter.  I won't be surprised to see come consolidation of missions:

bulletDPMO -- the Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office; Washington, DC
bulletJPRC -- Joint Personnel Recovery Center; Hawaii
bulletAFDIL -- Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab; DC area
bulletand a number of other organizations who provide technical or specialty support -- for example, an Air Force group at Wright-Patterson AB, OH, that maintains detailed records on aircraft.  These records are used to identify aircraft wreckage recovered from crash sites, frequently using serial numbers from parts of the wreckage.

Now, the SECDEF's problem is how to unstick himself and his senior staff from the tar baby they so readily snatched up in March 2014.

 As of mid-February 2015, the "new" organization is beginning to take shape.  As usual, all is optimism and promise. 

Seems to me as though everyone is ignoring one critical item:  We can't identify someone whom we can't recover.  In order to recover someone, we must find, confirm, and excavate the war-time crash site, gravesite, or similar location.  Access to the old battlefields of SEAsia is controlled by Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  We can pull all records together in one location; combine staffs; combine organizations.  But we can't order our way into sovereign nations.  Thus, don't expect much to come from this reorganization.

 I predict:

bulletWe will continue to recover and identify remains at the same pace in past years.
bullet"Activist" families and "concerned citizens" will continue to claim they are being lied to.
bulletA new SECDEF will reorganize in another eight to ten years.