By J.D. LeipoldJuly 30, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 30, 2010) -- Arlington National Cemetery is implementing new operating procedures to counter problems that led to what may now be thousands of mismarked gravesites.
Kathryn A. Condon, who took over as executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program last month, testified Thursday before a panel of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee.
She said changes at the cemetery have ranged from the establishment of new delegations of authority for fund certification and approvals, to developing and implementing new standards for marking and updating maps to the assignment of gravesites, to procedures for the proper handling of remains as well as ensuring an accurate layout of internment sections.
Condon said she and acting Arlington Cemetery superintendent Patrick Hallinan and their staffs have been establishing new standard operating procedures on a daily basis.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, chairwoman of the ad hoc subcommittee on contracting oversight, said her panel's investigation leads her to believe there may be between 4,900 to 6,600 graves that are unmarked or mislabeled on cemetery maps.
The Army Inspector General's investigation found that 211 graves were unmarked or mislabeled on a three-section area of Arlington cemetery maps. While Condon could not confirm McCaskill's numbers, she testified that in the last 50 days, she and Hallinan had found discrepancies in other sections of the cemetery which have not yet been annotated.
In further testimony, Edward M. Harrington, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement, said there was a general breakdown in sound contracting practices and that statutory and regulatory requirements were not followed. He added that the Army has identified the problems and has initiated corrective actions to address the root causes and confirm those deficiencies will never be repeated.
Claudia Torblom, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for management and budget, also testified. In her written statement, Tornblom said cemetery employees had been working on an automation plan called the "total cemetery management system." The goal behind TCMS was to automate burial and graveside records and maps to support project and financial management and aid in services and ceremonial management.
According to Tornblom, the Army had provided three reports to Congress on the TCMS. The first in 2005 was the overall plan for automation; the second in 2007 noted discrepancies in burial records but did not describe the potential scope of that problem. The 2010 report identified $10.3 million on TCMS expenditures.
A critical part of TCMS, she said, was the incorporation of a triple validation system, a process to provide a full review of burial records, maps and information engraved on headstones in order to identify and reconcile discrepancies.
"Although the historical records from 1864 to 1999 were scanned to ensure their preservation, the follow-on steps of data entry into a retrievable system and validation of the data did not proceed as intended," she told the committee.
John C. Metzler, the former superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and Thurman Higginbotham, the former deputy superintendent also testified.
Metzler, who ran the cemetery for nearly 20 years, said it pained him that he and his team did not perform all aspects of Arlington's mission to the highest standards required.
"As the senior government official in charge of the cemetery I accept full responsibility for all my actions and for the actions of my team, and I want to express my sincerest regrets to the families to who this has caused pain," he said.