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Hagel announces changes to POW/MIA accounting command

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 12:17 p.m. HST, Mar 31, 2014

The embattled Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii will no longer report to U.S. Pacific Command and is instead being assigned with other agencies to the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, officials said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced changes on Monday to the handful of agencies that investigate, recover and identify missing American war dead after reviews found the longstanding system was inefficient and dysfunctional.

According to officials, the changes will:

>> Align JPAC, headquartered at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, along with the the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office in Washington, D.C., and parts of the Air Force Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory in San Antonio, under the direct supervision of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.

>> Establish medical oversight of all research.

>> Establish one case data management system.

>> Expand public-private partnerships to recover missing war dead.

The Pentagon's efforts to recover Americans missing from past wars are fragmented, overlap and are hampered by interagency disputes -- inefficiencies that threaten a congressional mandate to identify 200 missing service members by 2015, the Government Accountability Office said in a July report.

The Defense Department has averaged about 70 identifications a year, while more than 83,000 Americans remain missing. Of those, between 25,000 and 35,000 are estimated to be recoverable.

"DoD's capability and capacity to accomplish its missing persons accounting mission is being undermined by long-standing leadership weaknesses and a fragmented organizational structure," the GAO's report found.

The GAO report comes on the heels of an internal JPAC efficiency report that harshly criticized "military tourism" trips to Europe by JPAC staffers as extravagances that included luxury hotels and fine dining.

The internal report, researched in 2010, described aspects of JPAC as dysfunctional -- a charge still leveled today by some staffers who complain that interdepartmental rivalries interfere with the recovery mission.

JPAC is finishing a new $82 million headquarters and lab at Hickam and expects the facility to be completed in late July. The center will be named for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

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