Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced March 31 that he’s ordered an overhaul of the Pentagon agencies responsible for recovering and identifying the remains of America’s war dead.
The reorganization seeks to consolidate the mission, improve efficiency and increase the number of remains identified by the two key agencies charged with POW-MIA accounting efforts — the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Hagel told a Pentagon news conference.
Last month, the defense secretary directed Michael Lumpkin, acting undersecretary of defense for policy, to provide him with recommendations on how to reorganize the two organizations into a single, streamlined unit with oversight for the entire mission.
“These steps will help improve the accounting mission, increase the number of identifications of our missing, provide greater transparency for their families and expand our case file system to include all missing personnel,” Hagel said.
An armed forces medical examiner working for the yet-to-be-named agency will be the sole DOD identification authority and will oversee operations of the central identification laboratory in Hawaii as well as those in Omaha, Neb., and Dayton, Ohio.
“By consolidating functions, we will resolve issues of duplication and inefficiency and build a stronger, more transparent and more responsive organization,” Hagel stressed.
In explaining why the reorganization was necessary, Lumpkin told reporters it had become clear that the department needed a “paradigm shift” from what some have called “outdated, institutionalized thinking and behavior that didn’t deliver the number of remains accounted for that we had hoped.”
“As of next year, Congress has mandated the department have the capacity to identify up to 200 sets of remains a year, but last year the DOD agencies only identified 70 sets,” he said.
Lumpkin said the new agency will maintain a single database of records related to missing Americans instead of the multiple databases currently in use. In addition, he said, proposals will be developed for expanding partnerships with private organizations already working to recover and identify remains to “fully embrace progressive science.”
No date has been set for when the new agency will be stood up, but the undersecretary said it would be led by a civilian appointed by the president.
“This is a top priority for the Department of Defense. There is no greater sacrifice a service member can make than by dying for this country and we want to honor these heroes by bringing them home,” Lumpkin said.