Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, trying to defuse the mounting public fury over the mishandling of American war dead at the Dover air base, said he had asked the Air Force to review whether three officials implicated in the scandal should be fired rather than simply reprimanded.
Panetta's comments came as the Pentagon faced growing congressional criticism for failing to act more quickly after whistleblowers at the base complained that body parts were being misplaced and lost, a striking lapse in the base's established protocols for handling military remains.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it would reprimand the three officials most directly accused of falsifying records and otherwise attempting to cover up the misdeeds there.
But with growing calls for stronger action, Panetta said he wanted the Air Force to review whether they should instead be fired.
In a statement shortly after Panetta spoke, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said the service had allowed "lapses in our standards at Dover" and would work to restore public confidence in the facility.