Our objective was to evaluate the Department’s implementation of prior DoD OIG recommendations and Secretary of Defense-directed organizational changes to the past conflict personnel accounting community, which resulted in the formation of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
Before 2015, three distinct organizations within the DoD were responsible for the past conflict personnel accounting mission: the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, and the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory. In January 2015, the Secretary of Defense consolidated these three organizations into DPAA. The mission of DPAA is to lead the national effort to account for missing DoD personnel from past conflicts; to provide family members the available information concerning the loss incident and search recovery efforts; and to provide the current status of unaccounted-for DoD personnel.
Since DPAA’s creation in 2015, the DoD and DPAA have made significant progress in implementing prior recommendations from the DoD OIG and from the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Specifically, the DoD issued updated guidance about disinterring unknowns for the purpose of identification, and DPAA developed new policies and procedures for case management, agency-wide performance assessments, and partnership arrangements with private organizations.
Of the 21 prior DoD OIG recommendations that we evaluated, 15 were closed, and 6 remained open. The recommendations that remain open relate to the establishment of DPAA’s standard operating procedures, DoD disinterment policy, DPAA guidance for service casualty offices regarding cases classified as non-recoverable, updating DPAA’s personnel billets, and deficiencies in DPAA’s travel processes. In addition, we made three new recommendations.
Of the nine prior Secretary of Defense-approved recommendations that we evaluated, six were closed and three remained open. The recommendations that remain open relate to the establishment of agency performance metrics, implementation of the new case management system, and DoD policy regarding burials at sea.
As a result of our evaluation we made six new recommendations related to items in the original Secretary of Defense-approved recommendations.
Moreover, our current evaluation identified the following areas for additional improvement:
1. Fullest Possible Accounting:
Since the end of the Vietnam conflict, the commonly understood mission of the past conflict personnel accounting community is to achieve “fullest possible accounting.” However, the DoD and accounting community’s past attempts to define “fullest possible accounting” have been inconsistent, such that the meaning of the term remains open to stakeholder interpretation. Without a clear definition of “fullest possible accounting,” DPAA’s external stakeholders expect differing results relating to identification of the missing based on their own understandings of the term.
2. Agency Goals and Mission End-State:
As prescribed by law, an individual missing from a past conflict can be considered “accounted for” only if that person’s biological remains are recovered and identified. More than half of those missing from past conflicts are categorized as non-recoverable, meaning that there is a negligible potential for recovery of remains.
This limited definition of accounted for is not explicitly reflected in DPAA’s current mission and operational strategies, and should be incorporated into the agency’s long-term goals and proposed mission end-state.
3. Organizational Structure:
The accounting community reorganization in 2014-2015 resulted in the personnel and facilities from the previous organizations remaining generally intact. The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, located in Virginia, became DPAA East, and the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, located in Hawaii, became DPAA West.
Although the creation of DPAA consolidated the functions of the accounting community into one agency, DPAA East and DPAA West have retained much of their distinct organizational cultures related to mission operations and procedures.
Additionally, we found that DPAA’s military life support material (non-biological) analysis capabilities are underused and not fully incorporated into DPAA’s organizational processes for identification of remains.
4. Agency Travel Program:
A DPAA internal audit found that the agency had not resolved several recommendations identified in prior DoD OIG and Naval Audit reports relating to temporary duty travel.
In addition, an ongoing deficiency resulted in junior DPAA travel clerks assuming personal financial liability for travel vouchers rather than the appropriate agency supervisor.
We determined that DPAA is updating policies and procedures that, when fully implemented, should resolve travel findings from prior audits and prevent future deficiencies.
5. Resource Allocation:
DPAA spends the majority of its operational budget on Vietnam War cases in Southeast Asia, sometimes at the expense of opportunities outside of Southeast Asia and other past conflicts.
DPAA has not clearly identified or communicated this prioritization of resources for Vietnam cases to stakeholders, resulting in the perception of unequal commitment to each conflict.
6. Strategic Partnerships:
DPAA has implemented a policy promoting partnership programs that leverage the expertise and resources of non-federal and private entities.
However, staff from both DPAA and partner organizations suggested that the program lacks clear and consistent guidance and implementation from DPAA program officials.
We recommend that the Director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency:
- clearly define “fullest possible accounting” and align the definition with corresponding DPAA goals, strategies, metrics and mission end-state.
- review and modify DPAA’s organizational structure to continue to improve operational control, develop consistent agency processes, and unify agency functions and personnel.
- enforce agency travel guidance to ensure compliance with DoD travel policies.
- update organizational goals, review resource allocation, and disclose operational priorities.
- develop and disseminate updated guidance for collaboration with partner organizations.
Management Comments and Our Response:
The Director of DPAA generally agreed with our recommendations related to “fullest possible accounting,” the agency’s travel program, resource allocation, and strategic partnerships. The Director’s comments highlighted internal policy revisions and updated processes that addressed DPAA’s implementation of our recommendations.
These recommendations are resolved, but will remain open pending our receipt of DPAA’s updated policies.
However, the Director of DPAA disagreed with our recommendations to review and modify the agency’s organizational structure, and to reevaluate the roles and responsibilities of the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory. The Director stated that DPAA’s current organizational structure does not create separate organizational cultures, nor does it prevent unity of effort. He pointed out the unexpected year-long gap between the departure of his predecessor and his arrival as a contributing factor to a perceived lack of unity. In addition, the Director stated that DPAA’s Life Sciences capabilities are used regularly in agency operations, and that they contribute significantly to case analyses.
We believe that the comments provided by the Director of DPAA do not fully address the specifics of these two recommendations. Therefore these recommendations are unresolved. We request that the Director of DPAA respond to the final report with an outline of planned steps to decrease the perceived separation between former JPAC and DPMO employees. We also request that he provide evidence of routine use of the Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory in ongoing identification cases. We request this information no later than August 22, 2018.
This report is a result of Project No. D2017-D00SPO-0154.000.