WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Pentagon came under pressure in Congress on Thursday to shape up its process for accounting for those reported missing in action.
More than 83,000 American servicemen and women are listed as missing from the wars of last century, including World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and the effort to account for them is divided among various military agencies.
“For the past decade, DOD has accounted for an average of 72 persons each year,” Brenda Farrell of the Government Accountability Office told a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
But the Pentagon has mandated the overall search effort increase annual recovery to 200 people per year.
“It’s time we focus our attention on how we make the POW/MIA accounting community more effective and efficient to be able to meet the goal of identifying at least these 200 sets of remains a year by 2015,” Rep. Susan Davis, D-California, said.
No American troops are listed as missing from the most recent conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, due in part to modern DNA testing.
So why is it so hard to resolve past cases?
There are a handful of Pentagon units involved.
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) is based near Washington; Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command is headquartered in Hawaii; and the Air Force Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory is based in Texas.
They have overlapping duties and different bosses.
“DPMO and JPAC developed two competing proposed plans, neither of which encompass the entire accounting community,” Farrell said. “There are other players such as the Life Science equipment laboratory that reports to the Air Force Material Command. That’s another chain of command we’ve got. Now we’re up to three chains of command.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill said at a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing that a 1993 Senate report noted the process at the time for locating missing Americans in Southeast Asia was flawed by a “lack of organizational clarity, coordination and consistency.
“Is it any wonder that this is a mess.” she said.