Missile Defense Fallout

Pentagon missile defense director faces early retirement for leadership failure

July 25, 2012

President Obama is set to approve the appointment of a one-star admiral to replace Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, who is leaving early as director of the Missile Defense Agency after a critical Pentagon inspector general report concluded he had intimidated subordinates and demoralized the key strategic defense agency.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has signed off on the expected White House appointment of Rear Adm. James D. Syring to be the next MDA director, according to defense and congressional officials. Paperwork for the appointment is said to be waiting White House approval.

Syring is currently a senior weapons acquisition official at the Navy who took part in developing the service’s next generation destroyer, known as DDG 1000.

O’Reilly, MDA director since 2008, is being let go before the completion of his four-year appointment in November, following the IG report that concluded he violated joint military ethics rules and Army regulations a head of the agency.

A declassified IG report dated May 2, 2012, stated that multiple witnesses had testified O’Reilly frequently "yelled and screamed" at subordinates and forced 19 senior officials to leave the agency, while others who remained were demoralized and afraid to speak in meetings.

The Missile Defense Agency is the Pentagon unit in charge of developing, testing, and deploying a variety of missile defense systems, notably two ground-based interceptor bases in Alaska and California, and numerous sea-based missile defense interceptor ships and radar. The agency’s annual budget is around $8 billion.

Rep. Michael R. Turner—chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, which oversees Pentagon missile defenses—said he was troubled by the IG’s conclusions.

In a July 13 letter to Army Secretary John M. McHugh, who is in charge of dealing with the case, Turner asked what action was planned against O’Reilly.

"I am also troubled by Gen. O’Reilly’s lack of transparency and forthrightness regarding this matter," Turner said, noting comments he made during a recent congressional hearing about MDA morale that were "in sharp disagreement with the IG report."

"I am deeply concerned that there may have been an attempt to misdirect the subcommittee in its oversight," Turner said. "The findings of the DoD-IG report suggest that it may take considerable time and investment to remedy the environment that has been created at MDA to ensure it can attract the best and the brightest to its critical mission."

The appointment of a one-star admiral to fill the three-star post is raising questions about whether the Pentagon plans to downgrade the agency, which has strong backing among defense-oriented Republicans on Capitol Hill.

One scenario, according to defense officials, is that Syring will be approved to take over MDA, given two-star rank, and named acting director. A formal nomination to full director and third star could then come later this year. Syring is currently program executive officer for the Navy’s Integrated Warfare Systems office.

Alternatively, some defense officials said, the coming leadership change at MDA may mark a restructuring and downgrading of the agency that will be reflected in a reduced leadership from three-star to two-star status.

O’Reilly is expected to leave the agency in August, the officials said. If he leaves before November, military rules would require that he be demoted to major general, one U.S. official said.

MDA and Pentagon spokesmen declined to comment on O’Reilly’s future.

One MDA official said O'Reilly is leaving but is not being forced out because of the IG report. He had planned to leave the agency in the fall or winter.

According to the IG report, in one case, O’Reilly forced an aide to tell him that the aide had "fucked up" by holding a conference at a resort in Arizona.

Other allegations included testimony to the IG that O’Reilly had abused the financial travel reimbursement system while director. The IG dismissed those allegations, according to the officials.

The IG report, which contained several blacked-out portions, stated that O’Reilly’s "behavior and leadership were inconsistent" with rules that require "ethical values, including fairness, caring and respect." The three-star Army general was also faulted for 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."

The report said O’Reilly disagreed with the inspector general’s findings and that he denied yelling, screaming, and using profanity toward his aides. However, the report also said the general did not dispute that his leadership style had prevented subordinates from speaking up or raising issues during staff and other meetings.

Despite the denials, the IG report stated, "We stand by our conclusion."

"There was a preponderance of evidence to establish that Lt. Gen. O’Reilly engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with DOD and Army standards," the report said.

The report was based on a yearlong investigation that included testimony from 37 witnesses, including 24 current or former senior MDA officials. It was triggered after an employee complained that O’Reilly had created "an extremely hostile work environment" and that the general had "verbally abused and threatened his staff, and that his behavior resulted in the loss of key staff."

Examples of witness testimony included workers who described O’Reilly as "verbally abusive, demeaning and given to use of inappropriate language" in both meetings and video teleconferences.

In February 2010 at a conference in Tucson, Arizona, witnesses stated that O’Reilly was seen screaming at a subordinate for five or 10 minutes telling him, "you fucked up, you tell me you fucked, you admit you fucked up."

Then, in June 2010, a witness said that as a result of a technical glitch in remote monitoring a ballistic missile defense verification test, O’Reilly screamed at an executive officer, claiming the officer did not know what he was doing.

A defense official close to MDA told the Free Beacon that O’Reilly has a "vicious reputation" within the agency.

"I had the misfortune of serving under Lt. Gen. O’Reilly and this [IG} report does not fully capture his abusive nature," the official said. "He routinely berates and degrades employees in his command and even personnel outside of MDA. His combative attitude has led to strained international relations as well as an agency ‘brain-drain’ as many of the other government and private sector employees leave to work in a less hostile environment."

However, the official said, a potentially more serious problem is that O’Reilly was guilty of "failing to lead the nation any closer to a comprehensive missile defense system."

"Only the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system is dependable in live-fire testing," the official said.

The official said O’Reilly’s management faults resulted in a dysfunctional agency that translated into a series of failed flight tests and cost overruns within several missile defense systems.

"The Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) program, charged with defending the homeland, conducted the last two intercept flight tests in 2010 and both failed to hit the targets," the official said.

Other programs are behind schedule and over budget, the official said.

The official also raised questions about the integrity of missile defense flight tests that MDA had classified as successes.

"Many flight tests fail to achieve intercept, however, Lt. Gen. O’Reilly will report that the target was ‘successfully engaged and all test criteria have been met,’ or ‘all components performed as designed,’" the official said.

O’Reilly’s tenure will be marked by "a besieged workforce and an agency unable to field a viable missile defense capability that can protect our nation, allies, and deployed forces," the official said.

According to the IG report, one senior official testified that O’Reilly’s leadership style was "condescending, sarcastic, abusive" and "management by blowtorch and pliers."

The report also said that "very smart, very sophisticated" leaders and engineers left the agency "because of the intimidation" and that morale was "extremely low" because of O'Reilly's leadership.

Witnesses said the general created a "climate of fear" also described by witnesses as "toxic."

"We received consistent testimony that as a result of his management style, even senior officials stopped communicating with Lt. Gen. O'Reilly," the report said.

Staff members "stopped offering opinions or information that differed from Lt. Gen. O'Reilly's, and sometimes did not respond at all," the report said.

Additionally, MDA employees "stopped reporting information" and avoided giving honest answers out of fear of having their "head chopped off."

"One senior official described meetings at which not one of a dozen senior officials would say a word, because they would ‘get shot in the face or get [their] head blown off. So none of us will speak up anymore,’" the report said.

The IG report contained the names of several of the 19 officials who had left MDA over the abuse.

They included Albert Hemphill, former head of MDA’s operations and finance section; John Daniels, former program director for sensors; Randolph R. Stone, who spent eight years as MDA director of quality, safety, and mission assurance; Patricia Gargulinski, MDA’s director for targets and countermeasures; and Katrina McFarland, former director of acquisitions.

O’Reilly, in a Feb. 2 letter to the IG, said he disagreed with the report’s conclusions and challenged the accuracy and objectivity of witnesses. O’Reilly said the witnesses’ testimony was based on "extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents."