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)