Head of Missile Defense Agency cited for poor leadership

Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, then director of the Missile Defense Agency, at a Pentagon press briefing, Dec. 5, 2008.


By JOSH ROGIN | Foreign Policy | Published: July 4, 2012

Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, mismanaged his office, harassed and bullied his senior staff, and overall failed in his leadership of the Pentagon's largest program, according to a previously undisclosed internal report obtained exclusively by Foreign Policy's blog The Cable.

O'Reilly "engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with standards expected of senior army leaders," in violation of Army regulations on ethics and leadership, according to a May investigation and report by the Defense Department's Inspector General's office that was never released to the public. The IG's office is recommending that Pentagon leadership take "corrective action," against O'Reilly.

The report found that O'Reilly regularly yelled and screamed at subordinates, often in public, demeaned and belittled employees, and behaved in such a way as to result in the departure of at least six senior staffers from MDA during his tenure.

"We determined that LTG O'Reilly's behavior and leadership were inconsistent with the [Joint Ethics Regulation's] emphasis on primary ethical values of fairness, caring, and respect for all DOD employees and with [Army Leadership regulations'] requirement to treat subordinates with dignity, respect, fairness, and consistency," the report stated.

The IG's office gave O'Reilly a chance to respond and in March, O'Reilly told the IG that he disagreed with its conclusions and denied several of the specific allegations in the report. But O'Reilly couldn't deny that senior staff have been fleeing his command. The IG's office said in the report that it stood by its findings.

"We recommend the Secretary of the Army consider appropriate corrective action with regard to LTG O'Reilly," the IG said.

The IG's office interviewed O'Reilly and 37 other witnesses to his behavior before issuing the scathing report. The inspectors determined that although O'Reilly has had a distinguished, multi-decade career in the military and is known to be a hard worker who gets things done, his management of the MDA office has been nothing short of disastrous.

Here are some of the descriptions of his leadership given by subordinates and highlighted in the report:

  • The worst manager I've worked for in 26 years of public service;
  • As a leader, as a director, whatever, he's the worst;
  • In terms of leadership, bottom;
  • Absolutely last, out of all the generals I've served under;
  • Without a doubt . . . the worst leader I've worked for, the worst;
  • He has probably been 100 degrees out from everything I've learned about leadership;
  • How not to act;
  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger; and
  • Not the command climate I would have set.

In one incident, O'Reilly screamed at an employee for 10-15 minutes in a hotel lobby because the employee booked a hotel with the word "resort" in its title. O'Reilly was afraid of news stories that would make MDA seem like it was living it up on trips. The employee reported that O'Reilly forced him/her to curse in admitting the mistake, even though that employee didn't want to use profanity.

"You [f-----] up, you tell me you [f----- up], admit you [f-----] up," O'Reilly screamed at the staffer, according to the witness. "This is [f-------] unacceptable. I want you to tell me you[f-----] up."

"I [f-----] up," the staffer finally said, after trying to explain him/herself in a more nuanced way.

Other witnesses said that O'Reilly often screamed and yelled during video conferences and staff meetings, which discouraged staff from speaking up at meetings for fear of being berated. One witness described O'Reilly's personality as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Other witness statements about O'Reilly's leadership described it as "condescending, sarcastic, abusive," "management by blowtorch and pliers," and one senior official compared the senior staff's predicament to "beaten wife syndrome."

A senior MDA official told the IG that "LTG O'Reilly would 'berate you, make you feel like you're the dirt beneath his feet,' then pay a compliment to rebuild the employee, and later repeat that cycle," the IG report stated.

O'Reilly reportedly also at one time or another called various employees, "a bunch of god damned idiots," "just a moron who he'd gladly choke," "a dumb [f---]," and an "ignorant ass." O'Reilly told the IG office he didn't remember making those comments.

The names of the senior officials who fled O'Reilly's command were redacted from the report, but some of their titles weren't. They served as the former program director for sensors, the former director for operations, the former director of quality, safety, and mission assurance, and the former program director for target and counter-missions.

One senior staffer who left under duress was Katrina MacFarland, MDA's acquisitions chief, who is now the assistant secretary of defense for acquisitions following an interim stint as president of the Defense Acquisitions University.

In his response to the IG, O'Reilly wrote that the witness testimony amounted to "subjective perceptions," and "extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents."

He is scheduled to retire this November but the IG office is recommending disciplinary action now. MDA spokesman Rich Lehner declined to comment on the report.

The Missile Defense Agency received $8.4 billion in fiscal 2012. In 2011, MDA was ranked 228 out of 240 in the list of best places to work in the federal government, as compiled by the Partnership for Public Service.


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