DOD Works with Congress on Dover Review
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 29, 2011 Defense Department officials will continue to work with Congress in investigating lapses at the Dover Port Mortuary in Delaware, where the remains of service members killed overseas are processed upon arriving in the United States, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said here today.
In a letter dated yesterday to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested information on reports of mishandling of remains at the mortuary.
The congressional committee said it is “conducting oversight of the Defense Department’s efforts to properly care for injured and fallen service members,” and asked to receive related documents and information from DOD by Dec. 9.
"The department takes very seriously the need to look into the lapses that occurred at Dover Port Mortuary,” Little told American Forces Press Service. “That's why the secretary has appointed an outside board of experts to look into procedures at Dover, and we will continue to work with Congress as it looks into this matter. Dover is sacred military ground, and our fallen heroes deserve the highest respect."
Little said retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who Panetta recently appointed to lead the six-member expert panel, “is in the Pentagon this week to work on the outside review."
During a Nov. 8 Pentagon news conference, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz took responsibility for incidents of mishandling remains at Dover that were reported by staff members and investigated in 2010 by the Army Inspector General, the Air Force Inspector General and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
At the time, the Air Force investigation found that some remains were not handled according to official procedures, and the mortuary leadership implemented corrective actions, including improvements in accountability, processes and procedures, record keeping and human and labor relations.
As a result of the investigation, in 2010 the mortuary commander received a letter of reprimand and two civilian employees were demoted and shifted to nonsupervisory jobs.
At a Nov. 10 news conference, Panetta noted concerns about this disciplinary action and other matters that were raised in a report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. In light of the OSC report, Panetta said, he wanted to make sure the 2010 disciplinary actions were appropriate and that no management reprisals were taken at Dover against employees who first reported the mishandling of remains.
On Nov. 15, Panetta gave Donley 30 days to conduct a review and report back on these matters.
In its letter to Panetta, the House committee cited its authority to “at any time investigate any matter” as the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives.
The information requested from DOD includes the following, all dating back to 2002:
-- A copy of DOD policies and procedures on handling remains.
-- A list of allegations of improper handling, preparation and burial of remains, including at Port Mortuary.
-- All documents and communications relating to such allegations.
The committee also asked for a list of personnel involved in any allegation of improper handling, preparation and burial of remains since 2002; a list of violators of such policies and procedures and a description of resulting disciplinary actions; all communications referring to mismanagement, dishonesty and misconduct at Port Mortuary; and a staff-level briefing on allegations involving Port Mortuary, department investigations and efforts to remedy deficiencies.