Fate of Missile Defense Chief Patrick O’Reilly Still Unclear

Aug 8, 2012 7:45pm

It’s still unclear whether Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the outgoing director of the Missile Defense Agency, will be disciplined by the Army following a blistering internal report highly critical of his management style.

A May 2 report from the Defense Department’s inspector general criticized O’Reilly, whose successor was proposed by the White House earlier this week, for routinely yelling and screaming at subordinates in public and private settings.

The inspector general concluded that O’Reilly “demeaned and belittled” his staffers and “failed to treat subordinates with dignity and respect.”  It said that leadership style “resulted in the departure of several senior staff members, and caused his senior officials to hesitate to speak up” in meetings.

The report recommended the Army consider “appropriate corrective action” for O’Reilly because his behavior violated Army regulations on ethics and leadership.

Army Secretary John McHugh has reviewed the inspector general’s findings and, after consulting with the Army’s general counsel, referred action to Gen. Lloyd Austin, vice chief of staff for the Army, for “appropriate disposition,” the standard process for actions related to senior general officers, Army spokesman George Wright said.

Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

On Monday, the Pentagon announced Rear Adm. James Syring’s nomination to be the next director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).  The post requires  Senate confirmation, so it remains unclear when Syring would take over the agency.

O’Reilly indicated earlier this year that he would retire in November after completing four years in charge of the agency.  In a sign of how quickly his fortune has turned for the worse this year,  a year ago that the Secretary of Defense requested that he remain in his position for an additional year.

Prior to Syring being named his successor, speculation centered around whether O’Reilly would be allowed to continue to head the agency until that date in the wake of the inspector general’s negative report.

Many of the 37 witnesses interviewed for the report provided multiple incidents where they said O’Reilly hurled expletives at staffers.

One staffer provided a written record of staff meetings where he was berated by O’Reilly.  In one 2009 meeting, according to the written record, O’Reilly “proceeded to curse me out and angrily, irrationally tell me how inept I was and that he could ‘f***ing choke me.’”  At another meeting, O’Reilly allegedly called staff members “a bunch of god damned idiot[s]” and called the witness “just a moron who he’d gladly choke.”

The same staffer said that once while on a video conference, O’Reilly became so upset with him he said,  ”If I could get my hands through the phone right now I’d choke your f***ing throat.”

Witnesses interviewed for the inspector general’s report likened the work atmosphere at MDA to “walking on eggshells” and described  the pressure as “almost palpable,” an environment they said brought morale down throughout the agency.

In a response included in the May report, O’Reilly denied that he had “yelled or screamed at anyone,” or, “insulted or verbally abused anyone.”  He also denied having used inappropriate language or threatening anyone.  O’Reilly challenged  the objectivity of witnesses and said their testimony contained “subjective perceptions” and said that their version of events consisted of “extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents.”

The agency drew more bad press last week when a memo from a top agency official emerged that cautioned employees from using their secure computers from visiting porn sites on the Internet.   The memo resulted from monitoring of the agency’s  computers that showed a handful of MDA’s 8,000 employees had visited unauthorized websites.

Despite the bad press O’Reilly and the agency he still leads continue with the testing and operations of developing the nation’s missile defense system.

Preparations are underway for the agency’s most complex missile test ever as five interceptors will be launched almost simultaneously  against five separate targets over the Pacific Ocean.   The test will include a mix of sea-based SM-3 missiles as well as land-based THAAD and Patriot missiles.

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