Arlington Cemetery officials punished for poor management
June 11, 2010
WASHINGTON, June 10, 2010 - The top two officials in charge of Arlington National Cemetery here were disciplined after an Army investigation found the cemetery's management to be "dysfunctional," Army Secretary John M. McHugh announced today at the Pentagon.
The Army inspector general completed a months-long report on June 8 that identified 76 separate deficiencies as well as 101 recommendations to improve operations at Arlington National Cemetery. Most significantly, the report found poor recordkeeping allowed occupied gravesites to be improperly marked or often not marked at all.
The Army stripped Superintendent John Metzler of all authority, but he will remain on staff until his retirement July 2. His deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, was placed on administrative leave pending additional personnel actions. Both are career federal civil servants.
"A majority of these findings are deeply troubling and unacceptable," McHugh told reporters today at a Pentagon news conference. "The [inspector general] found Arlington's mission hampered by dysfunctional management, by a lack of established policies and procedures and an overall unhealthy organizational environment.
The report determined the improper internment of remains, including the loss of accountability for remains, names and graves listed as empty, he said. McHugh also cited improper maintenance and cleaning of graves.
"That all ends today," he said firmly, later adding that "there's simply no excuse" for the negative findings in the report.
McHugh established a new position to oversee the Army National Cemeteries Program. Katherine Condon was appointed executive director of the cemeteries program and she "has total supervisory powers pertaining to all business and operational activities associated with Army cemeteries," the secretary said.
Condon served as the senior civilian for the Army Material Command before accepting the position.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki also agreed to lend his department's expertise in cemetery operations. Patrick K. Hallinan, director of the Office of Field Programs for the VA, will be temporarily reassigned as Arlington's superintendent. Hallinan currently oversees 130 national cemeteries.
Also, McHugh established an Army National Cemetery Advisory Commission. Former Sens. Bob Dole and Max Cleland are charged with leading the group. Both former legislators have the experience for the job. Dole co-chaired a commission that investigated deficiencies at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007, and Cleland is a former VA secretary.
McHugh said he's "deeply grateful" for the help he's enlisted. But more noticeably, the former New York congressman said he was battered with guilt and expressed his apologies to the families of the fallen buried in Arlington.
"On behalf of the United States Army and on behalf of myself, I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hallowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones," he said.
The Army and Arlington National Cemetery will bounce back, McHugh said.
"The Army owes better," he said. "I'm unable to explain the past, but I can promise this about the future. The United States Army will take every step necessary to fully ensure that every challenge, every need at Arlington is clearly understood and effectively addressed.
"We owe no less to our departed heroes, no less to the loved ones of this nation who, when the call was sounded, stepped forward to serve," McHugh continued. "The better tomorrows for Arlington National Cemetery begin today."