With few exceptions, the DoD announcement on Labor Day of retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague as director of the Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has been met mostly with praise. McKeague was finally appointed 16 months after the first director resigned in June 2016. During that hiatus, there has been derision and uncertainly in the ranks of DPAA.

A former employee said that McKeague’s appointment was “met with universal praise by the worker bees in DPAA,” he said, requesting anonymity.

There’s been a leadership vacuum during the last 16 months. I left DPAA because of the senior leadership issues. For example, the teams on the ground in Southeast Asia want a continued drive and effort toward searching for American remains, but budget cuts and a repeated, secretive effort to run up big numbers at the expense of Vietnam War recovery issues continues….there are many who hope Director McKeague will pursue that goal.”

The September 5 National League of POW/MIA Families Update echoed his concerns and praise of the McKeague selection:

The League was optimistic that Secretary of Defense Mattis would …. select a person with experience, character, commitment and dedication to the mission, someone who had earned the trust and respect of affected families and veterans, as well as foreign officials whose willingness to authorize necessary cooperation is critical to success. 

We wish Kelly McKeague the very best as he assumes responsibility to truly lead DPAA in accomplishing accounting objectives we share.  He brings to DPAA the integrity and respect necessary to regain credibility and overcome three fractious years during which leadership failures destroyed agency morale and confidence of the families and our nation’s veterans.”

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And, that update detailed some of the serious repercussions of budget constraints. Due to budget constraints, field operations in Vietnam and Cambodia were dramatically reduced during FY17; however, Lao operations were not as adversely impacted.  As is obvious, DPAA did not have the funding required to “increase the pace and scope of operations,” as Vietnam has repeatedly urged.

“Despite deep-seated, continuing internal dysfunction, DPAA field teams had been steadily implementing recoveries since becoming fully operational in January, 2016.”  After receiving assurances that “funding was secured, though at a lower level, but adequate to sustain operations until April 28th of this year, the reduction in field operations was a serious blow to (the) confidence in DPAA’s commitment to pursue Vietnam War accounting as a continuing priority.  Due to inadequate funding, the damage became increasingly clear.”

Leadership from the Joint Special Operations Association/Special Forces Association POW/MIA Committee echoed similar praise at McKeague’s appointment while sharing the Nation League of POW/MIA Families’ concern about budgetary cuts impacting recovery operations in Southeast Asia.

A long-time observer of the POW/MIA mission had one cautionary note:

While everyone is applauding the appointment of Mr. McKeague, everyone should be cognizant of the fact that there are key, upper management personnel who have told Vietnam veterans that they’re committed to the Southeast Asia mission while talking out of the other side of their mouth that Vietnam War remains will take a back seat to WWII and Korean War emphases. They’re bureaucrats and all have to pray for Mr. McKeague’s success not only in the field, but within the bureaucratic snakepits of Washington (D.C.).”

In his first public statement, McKeague said recently:

I know the importance of the agency’s mission and I look forward to working with DPAA’s team of dedicated professionals. I am humbled and blessed to serve on behalf of the families whose loved ones served our country. The fulfillment of this agency’s solemn obligation is my honor to endeavor.”

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.