This story has been updated.
Several key lawmakers are pushing for congressional action following Tuesday’s report of “gross mismanagement” of the remains of the war dead at Dover Air Force Base, with some calling for those involved to be held to greater accountability.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that Congress “will work with the Department of Defense to strengthen oversight and management of the Dover mortuary and other facilities.”
“Our service members and their families deserve nothing less. ... We will do everything possible to strengthen oversight and prevent future injustices,” she said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the allegations “appalling” and said that it was “truly outrageous to learn that some of those entrusted to handle the remains of our fallen heroes may have compromised a sacred trust.”
“Congress should, and must, act immediately to understand how this could have possibly happened and to make sure those responsible are held accountable,” she said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who chairs a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight and has led the effort to reform management of Arlington National Cemetery, said in a statement that the allegations were “horrific” and that the country owes “a debt of gratitude” to the whistleblowers who first raised complaints in 2009 about the handling of remains at Dover.
“As we learned from the heartbreaking incompetence at Arlington National Cemetery, management matters,” McCaskill said. “At Arlington, leadership changed; the officials responsible at Dover must be held accountable, as well.”
In response to the allegations, the Air Force has reprimanded or reassigned three officials at Dover, but none so far have been fired.
The Office of Special Counsel has sharply criticized the Air Force’s handling of the matter, charging that officials tried obstruct the investigation and accusing the Air Force of a “failure to acknowledge culpability for wrongdoing.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, sent a letter on Tuesday to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley calling for a “full explanation of what went wrong and who is accountable for the at least 14 instances of wrongdoing.”
“All civilians and service members who care for the remains of fallen American troops are charged with a sacred responsibility,” Tester wrote. “Mourning families and loved ones, and indeed our entire nation, trust that this responsibility is carried out with the utmost respect and dignity. Sadly, it appears that sacred responsibility was abandoned, and that trust was broken on multiple occasions.”
Several key committees may act on the Dover report. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) described himself as “deeply distressed” by the news and said that he has asked his staff to review the Air Force investigation “to ensure the adequacy of the findings and of the corrective action taken.”
Claude Chafin, spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said that McKeon is “closely examining the special counsel’s report, and the Air Force has committed to quickly providing a full briefing to the Armed Services Committee”
“The Committee will not hesitate to act to reinforce standards of perfection for our returning fallen warriors,” Chafin said.
Michael Amato, a spokesman for Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said that “there is no excuse for not treating every fallen soldier with the respect and honor that they deserve”
“That said, we will review this report closely and react appropriately,” Amato said.