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Lawmakers Order POW/MIA Office to Fix Problems

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Two senators on Thursday warned senior leaders responsible for bringing home the remains of troops lost in America's wars that funding may be cut unless they can better organize the entire effort and show progress in their mission.

"'Get it frickin' done," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the head of Joint POWMIA Command and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, told the officials that more hearings will follow and they expect to see progress.

For all the funding JPAC has been given over the years, Ayotte said there is no evidence it has made a difference in the number of recoveries. The DoD's POW/MIA office budget for 2013 was about $21 million

JPAC on average has been bringing home 72 remains a year. Congress directed the Pentagon in 2010 to ramp up so that it could average about 200 a year by 2015.

That is not in sight, and Air Force Gen. Kelly McKeague, commander ofJPAC, said a more realistic number is 125 a year, which could be attained in about five years.

The Senate hearing was one of two held on Capitol Hill on Thursday dealing with missing U.S. military personnel. Earlier in the morning, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel panel heard testimony from a Government Accountability Office official and a consultant to JPAC, both of whom were involved in separate reviews of JPAC operations.

Both reports found JPAC operations seriously hampered by leadership, organizational weaknesses and poor communications among numerous commands and departments that make up the accountability community.

The internal review, conducted by economist and management consultant Paul Cole -- who serves as a fellow to JPAC -- has been the most controversial. He described the location and recovery organization as dysfunctional, inept and possibly corrupt.

After Cole filed his report two years ago then-JPAC commander Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom ordered it suppressed.

Among the claims Cole made in his report, which the Pentagon has yet to release, is that JPAC's operations were at times more about "military tourism" than serious research.

Ayotte said the Cole report claimed several JPAC officials went to Italy to investigate a site where American remains may have been located. As part of their search the three team members stayed five nights at a luxury hotel in Rome and racking up an $18,000 bill to be footed by taxpayers.

The "military tourism" allegation also was brought up after the earlier meeting by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., during a discussion with Cole, the author of the internal report.

Cole told Speier that JPAC at one point planned to send four historians to interview a priest at a church in Austria to ask about a grave in a cemetery that may belong to an American serviceman from World War II. The travel was entirely unnecessary, he said, as another official was able to find the priest's phone number online and arrange for someone in Europe to call him up and ask him about the grave.

But most of the "military tourism" occurs in Southeast Asia, Cole told Spears. He said JPAC will send teams back to the same location again and again with no hard evidence there are remains in the area.

McKeague did not address the more controversial parts of Cole's report, but conceded there has been a problem with the various offices that make up the accountability community communicating.

"Much of my work of past 10 months has been to improve communications with members of the community," he said. "Unquestionably, there are areas within JPAC that offer areas for improvement."

W. Montague Winfield, a retired Army major general and first commander of JPAC, who now heads the DoD's POW/MIA office, told McCaskill and Ayotte that the DoD Inspector General is investigating allegations of waste, fraud and abuse made in an internal JPAC review in 2011, but was suppressed.

Winfield also said he has "embraced the GAO report" that detailed flaws in the structure and command of the accounting community. The GAO made nine recommendations based on its findings, most especially that there needs to be a centralized chain of command.

"As I strongly recommended the Department has begun the process of implementing all nine of the GAO's recommendations."

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