The beleaguered Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii has a new name — the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The new designation represents a merger between JPAC, as it was known, the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office in Washington D.C., and some functions of the U.S. Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory in Ohio.
Ceremonies were held in Hawaii and in Washington Friday reflecting the change, the Pentagon said.
"Today marks an important step in establishing the new agency and the continued commitment to the families of service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and remain unaccounted for," Christine E. Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in a release.
On Jan. 9, the Pentagon announced Rear Adm. Mike Franken will serve as interim director of the new agency, while Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, who was JPAC’s commander, was tapped for the interim deputy director. Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington was named as the senior advisor.
"They will lead the agency into this phase of the consolidation process and are committed to fulfilling our obligation to the families who have lost a loved one and providing the answers they deserve, while increasing identification capacity," the Pentagon said.
The former JPAC investigated, recovered and identified missing American war dead. How its part of that mission will change has not been detailed by the Pentagon.
McKeague, who was born in Liliha, grew up in Papakolea, and graduated in 1977 from Damien Memorial School, said in a military-produced news story on the merger that the integration of the three organizations will increase mission capabilities.
"There are obviously structural differences and changes with an organization that brings together three different organizations into a solid and integrated organization. There are always challenges with that," McKeague said. "With that also comes the opportunity to improve our processes, build upon established strengths that we have, and more importantly, move this mission forward with more effectiveness and more efficiency in how we fulfill this promise."
The Defense Department’s efforts at reform followed a series of embarrassing and damning revelations in reports and testimony before Congress starting in 2013 concerning failures in the effort to identify missing war dead.
The POW/MIA effort, conducted by a handful of agencies around the country, was fragmented, overlapped and hampered by inter-agency disputes, a July 2013 Government Accountability Office report said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last year noted that as of 2015, Congress had mandated that the Pentagon have the capacity to identify up to 200 sets of remains a year, but in 2013 the agencies only identified 70 sets.
At the time, Hagel directed the department to reorganize efforts into a single, accountable organization with comprehensive oversight of the past conflict personnel accounting resources, research, and operations.
JPAC’s headquarters and main lab are at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. A new $85 million lab and headquarters for JPAC at Hickam that was supposed to be completed in late 2013 won’t be occupied until later this year because "C4I" (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) was still being installed, the Pentagon said.
Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, a Pentagon spokesman, said in mid January that the new facility "will provide modern space and state-of-the art equipment in which the Hawaii-based elements of the new agency will more effectively and efficiently function. The facility is in its final stages of construction and occupancy by the new agency is expected in late spring."
Capt. Edward Reedy was selected as the first scientific director of the new accounting agency at Hickam. Reedy previously was director of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System’s DNA Registry.