Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, is calling for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing into the workings of the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), after a second government investigation has found that Pentagon efforts to account for fallen troops missing overseas are inefficient and in need of overhaul.
In a report released Wednesday afternoon, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) summarizes that the biggest problem with the Pentagon's efforts to track down and identify American soldiers missing in action is essentially a lack of leadership.
The report states that responsibility for the mission is assigned to many sections throughout the Department of Defense (DoD), with no single body in charge of overall personnel and resources.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ayotte writes that the GAO report "details serious problems within JPAC that are hindering efforts to locate and bring home missing persons from past armed conflicts...it underscores the need for the Committee to hear directly from JPAC officials about these disturbing findings and to ensure proper steps are being taken to address these problems."
More than 83,000 persons are missing from past conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf, and World War II — including 49 missing service members from Vietnam and Korea from New Hampshire alone. In 2009, Congress mandated that DoD increase its capacity to identify missing persons, with the goal of accounting for 200 people per year by 2015. Over the last decade, the annual average was 72.
Recent published news reports have focused on an internal DoD study that described JPAC as inept, mismanaged and even at times, corrupt.
The GAO report released Wednesday states, "While the Department of Defense has made some progress in promoting communication among the several organizations responsible for accounting for missing persons — known collectively as the accounting community — DoD's capability and capacity to accomplish its missing persons accounting mission is being undermined by longstanding leadership weaknesses and a fragmented organizational structure. Leadership from the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (USD Policy) and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) have not been able to resolve disagreements among accounting community members, thereby impacting DoD's ability to meet the mandated goal of increasing its capability and capacity to account for 200 missing persons a year by 2015."
"Our nation has a solemn responsibility to find and bring home the remains of American military heroes who served overseas, and we owe it to our fallen and missing soldiers and their families to do everything in our power to fulfill that promise," writes Ayotte. "It is with this commitment in mind that I request a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee as soon as possible to investigate GAO's findings."
Sen. Ayotte intends to raise the issue with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, during today's nomination hearing, said spokesman Liz Johnson.