WASHINGTON - The man leading the Defense Department's search for missing American service members is being investigated by the Pentagon for allegations of abusive management, The Associated Press has learned.
The accusations include reprisals against subordinates and sexual harassment of a female employee, according to Pentagon officials familiar with the inquiry.
Jerry D. Jennings, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, also has been accused by groups outside government of undermining his own office's mission of accounting for service members considered missing in action. They say he has alienated families of the missing and demoralized his staff.
In an e-mail response to written questions, Jennings wrote that he has cooperated fully in the inspector general's investigation. He declined to comment directly on the accusations, saying the inspector general asked that no one comment until the probe was completed.
Jennings said he was "aware of the complaints by a small number" of employees and pledged that they would be "handled appropriately." He did not comment directly on the sexual harassment allegation, which others said did not involve forceful physical acts.
Jennings, 65, defended his record of accomplishment and said that despite the opposition expressed by three MIA family organizations, "I am confident that their expression does not represent the will of the majority of the families."
His approach has so upset family groups that the boards of directors of three leading organizations, including the oldest, the National League of POW/MIA Families, each recently took the unprecedented step of voting "no confidence" in Jennings and urging his removal from office.
"We have lost faith in him," said Irene Mandra, national chairwoman of Korea-Cold War Families of the Missing. She called Jennings an ineffective leader who faces "a virtual mutiny" by members of his staff.
Mandra and others fault him for being unresponsive to their concerns, not working more smoothly with other elements of the government and not pressing harder for foreign cooperation on the MIA issue.
"The families' current alienation from (the Pentagon's POW/MIA office) is by far the worst I have seen since the Carter administration," said Richard T. Childress, who was director of Asian affairs at the National Security Council under President Reagan and now advises the National League of Families.
Some details of the inspector general's investigation were provided by six Pentagon officials with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry. They would not allow their names to be used, citing fear of reprisals. A Pentagon spokeswoman, Cheryl Irwin, said that as a matter of policy she could not confirm the existence of any investigation.
"Jerry Jennings is in a tough job where emotions understandably tend to run high," said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman. "He is completely committed to the mission of full accounting of our service members missing in action."
The MIA accounting effort is far-flung, taking U.S. search teams to remote parts of China, Russia and elsewhere to excavate burial grounds, aircraft crash sites and long-forgotten battlefields.
There are more than 1,800 U.S. servicemen still missing from the Vietnam War, more than 8,100 from the 1950-53 Korean War, about 125 from Cold War spy-related aircraft shootdowns, and 78,000 from World War II. The work sometimes involves sensitive diplomatic efforts with countries like North Korea and Vietnam.
Jennings has undercut the role of U.S. ambassadors who work with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, said an assessment by an affiliated Pentagon office, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
"The result has been very destructive to the POW/MIA accounting mission," the 2004 report said, adding that "a lot of hard work and time will be required to mend the interagency fissures and to overcome foreign officials' perceptions."
Ray Burghardt, who was U.S. ambassador to Hanoi from December 2001 to September 2004, said in an e-mail exchange with the AP that Jennings did not damage the MIA mission but neither has he made any noteworthy contribution.
The Pentagon office's assessment said morale in Jennings' organization was "at an all-time low." The report was provided to the AP by a person outside the command who said the problems needed a fuller airing.
"There's a pervasive failure of leadership," Air Force Capt. Joseph Pilkus, an analyst there from July 2003 to August 2004 before being removed in a dispute with a supervisor, said in an interview.
Pilkus accuses Jennings of abusing his authority by directing retribution against those in the office who wrote statements in Pilkus' defense. He and others said an Army major was punished with an unfavorable performance report and denied a Defense Meritorious Service Medal for which she had been recommended.
Jennings has not appeared in his office for more than two months, with officials citing an undisclosed health problem. He declined through spokesman Larry Greer to be interviewed for this story.
Jennings held a variety of posts in the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations from 1973 to 1992 none related to POW or MIA issues. He was deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1990-92. An official biography says he was a CIA officer from 1965-68.
On the Net:
Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/
Jennings bio at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/leadership/biographies.htm
© Copyright 2005 Associated Press