The Reorganization That Never Was … Part III


As we addressed in Part II of this series, after then Secretary of Defense Hagel asked for a pause in the reorganization, all family groups gave them the space they asked for, with the exception of one.  Ann Mills Griffiths took this as an opportunity to become a wedge and along with the VSOs who work exclusively with the National League of Families, they collectively sent a letter to Secretary Hagel outlining Ann’s perspective on the reorganization to date.  While others respected the break that was asked for, we know and have confirmation from a DoD official that Ann met with Christine Wormouth in early November.  When others asked if they would be provided the opportunity to meet with Wormouth, they were told that requests would be forwarded to Wormouth’s military assistant, “for consideration.”  Additionally, it was explained that Wormouth was not intending to open up dialogue with all family groups.

So much for this promise:

“I want to ensure every stakeholder is aware of our intent, and an active participant in this change-process and feels empowered to provide feedback.” – Michael Lumpkin

All through December and through the holidays there was silence.  Then in early January a DoD conference call took place where family groups and VSOs were ceremoniously introduced to what would equate to the DoD’s third attempt at a reorganization team since the reorganization was announced in March of 2014.  First, there was Mr. Lumpkin, then Alisa Stack along with the PACT and The Clearing and now Rear Admiral Franken, LTG Michael Linnington, General Kelly McKeague along with DASD for Public Affairs and Community Outreach René Bardorf.  

There was no explanation, no mention of the PACT or the Clearing, no mention of why this sudden change was taking place.  Yet, one thing was painstakingly clear, the “robust two-way communication” was gone.  Bardorf controlled the flow, content and topics and whenever a question veered in a direction that was not to her liking, she cut individuals off.   The voice of the missing personnel families was no longer wanted or needed.  Everyone but the League representatives and the VSOs were taken completely off guard.  When someone attempted to be “empowered” to provide the once-mentioned “feedback.” Franken became agitated and lashed out at family members on the call.  The format of these calls had done a 180 and no one even had the decency to let the rest in on the change.

The whispering campaign turned into a witch hunt and anyone who wasn’t willing to go along with the charade was removed from the calls.  Family groups were investigated and First Amendment rights were trampled on.  For more on this, a National Alliance’s newsletter from February, 2015 does a great job of outlining the murky waters that this third reorganization team has taken us into.  They only wanted people who would blindly follow their lead, not question their decisions and not remind them of previous promises.  René Bardorf was quoted as saying, “Any and all promises made prior to October 31st are no longer on the table.”   We found this quote almost incredulous coming from someone with no real standing in the reorganization.  

Family groups were so taken aback by all of this that four of the five major family groups issued a press release in February outlining their concerns.  The reorganization had clearly fallen off the tracks and this new leadership team went so far as admitting they knew next to nothing about the accounting community.  Once again, family members were removed from the process and given no voice in a process that they were going to have to live with long after Franken, McKeague and Bardorf were gone and moved on to new responsibilities.

DASD Bardorf showed her complete lack of understanding of  POW/MIA accounting by adding active-duty military support groups to the calls.  Groups, while very important for today’s military, had no history, role, or interest in the POW/MIA issue.  Groups like, Wounded Warrior, The Military Child, Operation Homefront, Blue Star Families, Student Veterans and even the USO.  Again, while these groups do great work, their inclusion in the POW/MIA issue, to (tongue-in-cheek) quote John McCain, “boggles the mind.”   And if that weren’t enough, she issued her own Rules of Engagement for the conference calls – issued, interestingly enough, after three family groups were removed from the calls.  We didn’t even know that a civilian, let alone a DASD for Public Affairs could issues RoE’s.


The conference calls continued with more of the tawdry illusion of progress while the reorganization which was supposed to bring families into the fold, correct wrong-doing and change the culture of the workforce, has been so watered down it is almost unrecognizable.  Instead of a top down restructuring it has become piecemeal.  The lab staff in Hawaii have their collective heads on swivel with word of their job status changing almost weekly and staff in Washington still unsure of what they are supposed to be doing or where they will be posted.  Yet, this brand new agency is supposed to be at full operation in a little over four months.

In June at the Vietnam meetings when the newly appointed Director of DPAA Michael Linnington was asked about the report/recommendations that The Clearing had submitted prior to the October 31, 2014 shutdown, Linnington mentioned something to the effect of the DoD not needing input from outside sources to do their jobs.  In fact, when family group leaders asked about the excessive amount of money that was spent on The Clearing and what their role would be, they were told that The Clearing was going to step away from working with the families and would be given internal roles within the reorganization.  A heck of a way to spend a reported $7-9 million dollars.  

The only aspect of the reorganization that appears to be getting any attention at all is the private public partnerships (P3’s).  Yet, they are off to an apparent rough start with a somewhat lackadaisical leader in the recently demoted Dr. Tom Holland.  Holland, as you may recall, was the head of the Central Identification Lab at the former JPAC.  He was replaced by Medical Examiner, Dr. Edward Reedy in January.  There has been some discussion about having a ME vs. a forensic anthropologist overseeing the lab.  By definition, a ME works almost exclusively with tissue and organs and a forensic anthropologist almost exclusively with bones.  There has been some question as to Reedy’s role in the lab, which we will address in a future posting.

These mystical P3’s have taken on a life of their own and become the heart of the faux reorganization.  Some were taken by surprise with Holland’s first presentation as the leader of the private/public partnerships.  At the Vietnam meetings in June, Holland began his poorly organized talk with a photo of a Wall Street fat-cat with a huge dollar-sign chain around his neck.  Holland then went on to say that inexperienced individuals were coming out of the woodwork to do excavations thinking that they were going to make millions.  Holland was quick to confirm, that kind of money is just not there.  We suspect that Holland and some of the P3 leadership are going to be butting heads because of the unorganized nature of this new branch of the accounting community due in no small part to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Dr. Holland.

In the final installment, of this series we’ll look at the role that the P3’s are playing in this misnomer of a reorganization.

The Reorganization that Never Was … Part II

Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

In the first installment of this series, we shared the specific promises that were publicly made and documented as part of the reorganization of the POW/MIA accounting agency.  The overarching promise, the one that gave long-time family members a glimmer of hope, was the idea that we were going to be part of this process.  Specifically, “I want to ensure every stakeholder is aware of our intent, and an active participant in this change-process and feels empowered to provide feedback.”  These were words spoken by ASD Michael Lumpkin in front of a room full of family members and DPMO/JPAC staff in June of 2014.

At this time The PACT (Personnel Accounting Consolidation Task force) was put in place, lead by DoD civilian, Alisa Stack and her Deputy Ross Brown.  Their role was to oversee all stages and aspects of the proposed 18-month reorganization.  Their primary directive was to take the policy that was approved by then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and established by Lumpkin, and put it into an actionable plan.

This is where The Clearing was supposed to break new ground and open the long-closed door of communication between the families and the DoD. The Clearing, a DC based business consulting firm, was contracted by the DoD to foster external communication with the families and encompass our concerns, our issues and what we felt was needed in the new agency.  They had been working even before the Annual Meetings in 2014 and were part of the meetings, having face-to-face chats with family members and getting a better grasp of the dysfunction from our perspective.  That was in mid-June, 2014.  In mid-August they also began moderating conference calls with family groups to continue gaining an overview of the issues through the eyes of the families.

Through the summer, the PACT focused on the more urgent aspects of the reorganization, aligning the resources and various avenues of funding for a single standing agency.  No small task considering the maze of agencies involved in the accounting community.  Not only did they align the funding, they also had to funnel all of the human resources under one umbrella.

It is still unclear as to how or why, but once Christine Wormouth was confirmed by the Senate as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in June 2014, Michael Lumpkin seamlessly disappeared from the process. Lumpkin was serving in his given role as ASD for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict as well as overseeing the responsibilities of USD for Policy which was vacated by James Miller in January 2014.   Conversations with other family members confirmed our suspicion that Lumpkin may have been quietly pushed out because of his open-minded approach to the reorganization.  He gave multiple sources the impression that even when the Policy position was filled, he would still be overseeing the reorganization.

Others shared with us during the meetings in June that Lumpkin was very responsive to communication from family group leaders, NGO’s, private citizens and individual family members.  Any direct communication was responded to personally and in most cases within 48 hours.  He seemed to be living up to the policy that he shared with families and to Congress.  He was clearly a man of his word.  He was willing to listen to anyone and everyone.  He gave the impression that his mindset was to understand the issue from all angles, not just the side of those who signed his paycheck.  This may have not sat well with some in DC or Hawaii.

Wormouth seemed to have a hands-off approach and for the most part spent her day to day time focusing on present day policy issues, she would receive weekly updates from the PACT and when time permitted, would take part in conference calls with various stakeholders.  But her input was sporadic at best. As one source told us, “She never appeared to be fully engaged in the reorganzation.”

By the early fall Stack and the PACT had hammer out some specifics as far as their overall plan and scope of their reorganization process. You can find those specifics here).  PACT leadership was meeting weekly with family group leaders, veterans’ groups and other stakeholders to ensure they had a good grasp of the issue from everyone’s perspective.  Working Groups within DPMO and JPAC were working in their assigned tasks as well as defining the cultural change that Lumpkin had promised. While to most directly involved in the issue, this was a breath of fresh air – everyone having an equal voice and working collectively – one individual didn’t like sharing center stage.

As we have learned over the past 40 years, some people have been given the luxury of being the only voice in the room.  When Alisa Stack made it clear to all those involved that no one voice was going to be heard above the din of others, that is when the reorganization truly ended.  While the overwhelming majority was hopeful, someone else didn’t like it.  So, in typical and almost expected fashion, the whispering campaign began.  Slights were beginning to appear in online publications.  Indirect comments directed at the PACT about ; “ … educated insights from experienced, dedicated professionals are being neither sought nor welcomed by the transition team.”

This person also voluntarily removed their organization from the weekly conference calls because being on equal footing with everyone else was not their cup of tea. We were told that even speaking in turn was difficult for this person.   The reason we mention this is because, as  other sources told us, as part of the whispering campaign, people inside the government and some of the NGO’s were told that call-in information for the weekly conference calls simply stopped arriving giving the impression that the remaining family groups were being exclusive when in reality it was their choice.  This added fuel to the fire and lead to what occurred on October 31st, 2014.

On what was to be a routine conference call with the PACT, family groups, VSOs and NGOs, participants were addressed by then Secretary Hagel wherein he stated that he was asking for “a pause” of two week so that he and his people could make sure things were heading in the right direction, that, as he put it, “all our ducks are in a row.”  This was also the call when crumbs were dropped, where the only person that the government has truly listened to over the decades of dysfunction stated that there was a desire to see more of a military presence in the structure of the reorganization team.  Hints were also dropped that would later lay the foundation for attacks against other family groups questioning their legitimacy and membership.
As those that follow the issue know, that two week pause turned into a two month pause.  It was later discovered, and no surprise to us here at the POW Warrior, that while all other family groups respected the pause that the Secretary requested, someone else was meeting with government officials laying the groundwork for a third reorganization team that would be introduced in January.

After the fact this letter, dated December 11, 2014,was circulated which clearly shows that while the majority took the Secretary at his word, others along with the VSOs were undermining all of the good work that had been done to date because it wasn’t to the liking of one individual.

Add to all of this the announcement of Secretary Hagel’s resignation in late November and our missing men never truly had a chance.  Marginalized again.

The government is too blind to see that they have spent the past 40 years listening to just one person.  In our minds, there is no coincidence that the wake of dysfunction coincides with this myopic perspective on the part of the DoD.

(Stay tuned for Part III and IV in the coming days)