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Senators urge aggressive fixes for POW/MIA operations

Two U.S. senators are urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to take aggressive action to fix the POW/MIA accounting operations.

In a Jan. 9 letter, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., outlined the requirements of recently ratified legislation and strongly urged quick reforms.

“Recovering our POW and MIA personnel is a sacred obligation, and the families of our missing heroes deserve nothing less than full honesty and transparency from their government — but that’s not what they’ve been getting,” McCaskill said in a statement Tuesday. “The legislation we passed last month will allow us to hold the Pentagon accountable for taking concrete steps to fix this management mess, and we’re not going to let up on the pressure until this is done.”

The letter follows approval of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment that gave the Pentagon six months to fix the “systemic mismanagement” plaguing recovery efforts of the nation’s war dead and missing.

The amendment calls for an analysis of whether parts of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Person Personnel Office should be combined and a determination on which components should have direct responsibility for accounting and analysis. It also calls for an analysis of how other countries account for their missing to determine best practices.

McCaskill and Ayotte have taken the lead in seeking to root out alleged mismanagement at JPAC and DPMO since the release of two scathing reports over the summer. In July, The Associated Press exposed an internal review that chronicled turf wars and questionable recovery results that the JPAC brass had covered up. A Government Accountability Office report mirrored those findings.

JPAC has admitted to holding phony repatriation ceremonies and allowing a Hollywood film production to shoot in the laboratory where the remains of fallen servicemembers are analyzed. Former JPAC and DPMO employees have told Stars and Stripes that JPAC officials actively argued against making identifications of World War II remains already in U.S. custody.

“We remain concerned that the Department is not adequately or expeditiously addressing the serious problems in the accounting community,” the letter to Hagel says. “The Department can and must do better.”

burke.matt@stripes.com

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