Feb. 1, 2016 –
In the year since being established as a Defense Agency on Jan. 1, 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) has accomplished a critical milestone, reaching “full operational capability” or “FOC” on Jan. 8, 2016. This declaration signifies the completion of the reorganization of the Department of Defense’s legacy past conflict accounting organizations into a single, unified defense agency.
During the reorganization efforts of 2015, the DoD never ceased its efforts to account for missing personnel from past conflicts and provide information to the families of our missing, but the full establishment of DPAA as a defense agency now enables the mission to be done more effectively and efficiently.
“I’m very excited about achieving FOC status as it postures the [Defense] Department’s accounting community in a better position to fulfill our noble and important mission,“ DPAA Director, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, said. “Now is the time to sharpen our focus, increase our efforts, and maximize all aspects of our accounting efforts to better provide answers to the families of our missing.”
Over the last year, DPAA has steadily attained many milestones that have led to FOC.
The Secretary of Defense approved the name and establishment of the agency on Jan. 29, 2015, and the next day the interim director, now Vice Adm. Michael Franken, held a small ceremony declaring that DPAA had achieved “initial operational capability,” or “IOC.”
Since then, the agency consolidated many administrative functions and developed a new organizational structure. DPAA is now anchored around two regional, multi-disciplinary teams that enable collaboration among researchers, planners, operators, scientists, and a host of other professionals. One region is focused on Asia and the Pacific while the other is Europe-focused.
“This new regional, multi-disciplinary approach will ensure improvement in operations, as team members are not only focused on their specific region, but are also working together in the same location,” said Army Col. Chris Forbes, director of the Europe-Mediterranean regional directorate. “We are now able to work face-to-face, making it easy to interact and conference as needed.”
Another key decision for the new POW/MIA accounting agency was the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s April 2015 decision to clarify the DoD’s policy on disinterring American Unknowns from cemeteries around the world. This decision addressed multiple family concerns about the difficulty of gaining approval to disinter their loved one’s remains, for the purpose of individual identification. The immediate result of this decision was the disinterment of the Unknowns associated with the sinking of the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941.
Establishing unity of purpose under a single agency director for the accounting community was one of the drivers for the Secretary of Defense and Congress’s decision to reorganize. With the appointment of Linnington as the first DPAA Director (in June 2015) and subsequent arrival of his two deputies, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Spindler and Mrs. Fern Sumpter Winbush, this critical objective was met. “I’m proud of all the hard work our team members have put into this reorganization,” Linnington said. “Their dedication and passion for their work made the past year undeniably successful.”
While the reorganization tasks are complete and the agency is operating at full strength, there is still much work to do. The merging of different organizational cultures from the various legacy organizations will take some time to cultivate.
“Each of the three separate organizations naturally had their individual ways of approaching the accounting task,” said Army Lt. Col. Eric Bjorklund, consolidation team leader. “But there was never any dispute about the importance in accomplishing this mission. Now as one team, we can focus on the same priorities and perform the mission better than ever.”
Some of the key recommendations for the new agency to implement will take more years to be fully integrated. For example, the case management system that will improve efficiency to workflows and communicate case information to the families of the missing has begun development, but is expected to take several months to become fully functional.
Another key initiative that is now under development, and is expected to grow significantly in the coming years is the agency’s strategic partnerships with external organizations (public and private) to augment and assist current capacities in all areas of our accounting mission. The Strategic Partnership office was established last summer and is implementing several partnership programs for 2016.
“Our goal is to have many additional professional organizations helping us with the recovery process,” Dr. Tom Holland, director of Strategic Partnerships, said. “We greatly appreciate their expertise, resources and enthusiasm for bringing home the remains of our missing war heroes.”
As DPAA starts 2016 as fully operational, there is great optimism that the agency is better positioned to fulfill its mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation.