Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday said President Obama has approved the nomination of Rear Adm. James D. Syring to head the Pentagon’s strategic Missile Defense Agency (MDA), a three-star rank position.
The announcement made no mention of when Syring will replace Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the current MDA director who was the subject of a critical Pentagon inspector general report that concluded he violated Army and defense rules by mistreating agency employees.
Defense officials said Obama approved the replacement for O’Reilly last week.
It could not be learned when the shift in leaders will take place, although it could take place as early as Aug. 16.
O’Reilly, MDA director since 2008, had planned to step down in the fall, according to an MDA official.
Syring is expected to be in place in time for a major Missile Defense Agency conference in Berlin set to begin September 13. The conference is expected to be a first step in repairing damaged international relations with U.S. partners involved in missile defense. Officials say those relationships were undermined by O’Reilly.
The conference, which is expected to cost around $1 million, could be canceled as the Pentagon seeks to tighten spending, defense officials said.
On MDA’s international relations, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak tried to avoid meeting O’Reilly during a visit to Washington last month after news reports indicated the three-star general was a lame duck director.
“The Poles then indicated that they were not interested in meeting with him if he was on his way out,” one official said. “It took a lot of arm twisting, but they were able to bring in the defense minister for a brief meeting.”
MDA spokesman Rick Lehner, said: “There is a Senate confirmation process for promotion and assignment so I don't know the timetable for a change of command nor do I have any information regarding Gen. O'Reilly's tenure.”
O’Reilly, according to a defense official, dismissed news reports of his replacement by Syring as “Internet rumors.”
Other officials said the transition from O’Reilly to Syring could be difficult since Army Secretary John M. McHugh, in response to an inquiry from Rep. Michael R. Turner, a senior House Republican in charge of overseeing missile defenses, stated last month that he has recommended a second inspector general probe of O’Reilly.
Turner has asked whether O’Reilly “misdirected” the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee during recent testimony about his handling of the Missile Defense Agency.
Normally, senior military officials under investigation are not permitted to retire while an investigation is ongoing. One possibility is that O’Reilly may be moved to a new post soon, so that Syring can take over the agency involved in building and deploying strategic missile defenses.
Critics of O’Reilly say his tenure has been marked by demoralization and by a souring of the MDA’s relations with key international partners.
The Pentagon IG report from May, quoted multiple witnesses as stating that O’Reilly frequently “yelled and screamed” at subordinates and 19 senior MDA officials had left the agency as a result of his unprofessional behavior. Others who remained at the agency reported being demoralized, the report said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Syring, head of the Navy’s Integrated Warfare Systems office, will be promoted to three-star rank from his current one-star rank, an unusual but not unprecedented promotion.
The IG report concluded that O’Reilly’s “behavior and leadership were inconsistent” with Army and Pentagon rules that require “ethical values, including fairness, caring and respect.” He also was criticized for what the report said were command leadership failures.
“Lt. Gen. O’Reilly failed to treat subordinates with dignity and respect, and failed to demonstrate the underlying leadership principles that inspire motivation, confidence, enthusiasm, and trust in subordinates, and foster a healthy command climate,” the report stated.
“Further, we determined that Lt. Gen. O’Reilly’s leadership style and actions resulted in the departure of several senior staff members, and caused his senior officials to hesitate to speak up and raise issues during meetings with him.”
O’Reilly disagreed with the report and denied many of the findings of the inspector general.
The report said “condescending, sarcastic, abusive” rule and “management by blowtorch and pliers” characterized MDA leadership under O’Reilly.