Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today the Defense Department will, effective Monday, consolidate into one new agency the organizations that account for U.S. military prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Hagel called for a review early last year to bring together the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, the Joint Personnel Accounting Command and related laboratories into a single DoD agency.
“Finding, recovering and identifying the remains of these individuals is one of our highest responsibilities, and I believed that DoD could more effectively and transparently account for our missing personnel while ensuring their families receive timely and accurate information,” Hagel said of the consolidation.
The secretary said the single agency will be accountable, responsive and transparent, with comprehensive oversight of personnel accounting resources, research and operations.
The new agency also will centralize communications with family members of the missing, he said, and “streamline the identification process; centralize budgetary resources; improve the search, recovery, and identification process; and develop proposals to expand public/private partnerships." It will initially be headquartered in the Washington area with a decision on its permanent location expected early next year.
Hagel named three flag officers -- one from each of the services -- to direct the new agency, which will be named with input from the families of POWs and MIAs, a senior defense official said during s background briefing today.
Navy Rear Adm. Michael Franken will be the agency’s interim director. Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, JPAC commander, will serve as deputy director, and Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, military deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will be the agency’s senior adviser to Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, whose office will oversee the agency.
Franken said he is indebted to the DoD professionals across the department who support POW and MIA identification work. “Their efforts have been crucial to meeting our mission and fulfilling the commitment to the nation and the families of our missing and unaccounted for heroes,” he said.
“This is something that’s very close to Hagel. It’s an effort he wanted to make sure he addressed prior to his departure,” the senior defense official said.
“Secretary Hagel has said America will remain committed to always bringing home our missing and our fallen,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters. “The decisions we are announcing today will ensure that we honor that solemn obligation.”
Some 83,000 Americans are still listed as missing from past conflicts.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)