WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's efforts to find and identify troops missing in action from past conflicts are undermined by leadership weaknesses, infighting and other problems that jeopardize the mission, according to a new audit released yesterday.
In response, the office of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said it will consider a recommended overhaul that could include a streamlined chain of command.
Members of Congress demanded quick action.
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). "The problems plaguing our efforts to recover our POW and MIA service members are systemic and seem to extend even beyond the problems identified in this report."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called for an urgent hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to investigate.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and a bipartisan group of House members have called for an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general.
At issue is the effectiveness of the MIA accounting mission, which is overseen by a Pentagon policy organization but executed largely by a Hawaii-based military section, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command. Its mission is to account for as many as possible of the 83,000 service members missing from World War II and the wars in Vietnam and Korea.
Yesterday's report by the Government Accountability Office echoes in some respects the criticisms cited in an internal Pentagon study disclosed last week by The Associated Press. In it, key elements of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, were called "dysfunctional." In response to the AP report, the Pentagon ordered a "second look" at the study, which was suppressed by the JPAC commander at the time.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that it has set no deadline for completing its review.
Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the GAO report deeply troubling.
"Coming on the heels of last week's Associated Press story describing similar problems, it underscores the urgent 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," she wrote in a letter to the committee's leaders.