By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (June 10, 2010) -- The Army announced management changes at Arlington National Cemetery today after revealing findings of unmarked gravesites, improper handling of cremated remains and discrepancies in burial records there.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced the creation of an executive director position for the Army National Cemeteries Program, as well as the creation of the Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission. Those changes came as a result of findings in two inspector general reports about management and operational activities at the cemetery.
During a press conference at the Pentagon, McHugh discussed the final report of an IG special inspection of the cemetery. That inspection was directed by McHugh's predecessor, Pete Geren, in August 2009. He also discussed the results of an IG investigation of the cemetery, directed by him, in November 2009.
"The majority of the findings ... are both deeply troubling and simply unacceptable," McHugh said. He said the inspection report renders 76 separate findings and makes 101 recommendations.
The findings "determined the improper interment and transinterment of remains, to include the loss of accountability of remains, graves listed as empty, unmarked grave sites, improperly marked graves, and improper handling of cremated remains," the secretary said. "That all ends today."
The secretary also said the IG reported that the cemetery's mission was hampered by "dysfunctional management, a lack of established policy and procedures, and an overall unhealthy organizational climate."
As a result of the findings in the two IG reports, McHugh appointed Kathryn Condon as "Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program." She previously served as the senior civilian at Army Materiel Command.
Second, the secretary announced establishment of an Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission and said former senators Max Cleland and Bob Dole will begin the work on that commission. The two are both Army veterans.
McHugh said the commission will "act as an independent oversight authority to provide a regimented review of all near- and long-term activities at Arlington."
The special inspection included five assessment objectives: policy and procedures; management, administration, and training; synergy of command and leadership structures; compliance with Army information assurance requirements; and contracting procedures.
The secretary said the investigation focused on "significant allegations" about the cemetery operations, including a "hostile work environment," inappropriate hiring practices, improper interment and transinterment of remains, including non-compliance with internal regulations policies and accountability.
On announcing the findings of the two reports, McHugh apologized, on behalf of the Army, to the families of those buried at Arlington.
"There is simply no excuse," he said. "On behalf of the United States Army, 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. To the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, to all citizens of this great nation who believe as I did that Arlington National Cemetery is the most sacred place on this planet, the Army owes better.
The secretary acknowledged that he is "unable to explain the past," but can make promises for the future. "The U.S. Army will take every step necessary to fully ensure that every challenge, and every need at Arlington is clearly understood and effectively addressed."
The current superintendant of Arlington National Cemetery, John C. Metzler Jr., was formally reprimanded by the secretary for "failure to properly execute oversight and management responsibilities to ensure ANC conducted its interment operations in accordance with applicable laws and policies."
Metzler has elected to retire, and will continue at his post until July 2. McHugh directed him to report now to Condon "for the duration of your service," and requested that he assist Condon "to ensure a seamless transition."
The deputy superintendant of the cemetery has been placed on administrative leave, pending a disciplinary review.