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IG tells Congress Arlington Cemetery issues corrected

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 23, 2011) -- Issues involving misconduct, mismanagement and poor record keeping at Arlington National Cemetery have been corrected, the Army's deputy inspector general told Congress at a hearing Sept. 23 on Capitol Hill.

"The changes that have taken place in the last year are a good news story," said Maj. Gen. William McCoy, the Army's deputy inspector general. "The deficiencies found at Arlington National Cemetery a year ago, I am proud to report have been substantially corrected this year."

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McCoy, along with the cemetery's executive director, Kathryn A. Condon, and its superintendent, Patrick Hallinan, addressed members of the House Armed Services Committee's joint military personnel and oversight and investigations subcommittee. The three appeared in order to discuss progress made at the cemetery to correct problems initially revealed in a June 2010 Department of Defense Inspector General report that revealed mismanagement at the cemetery.

McCoy credited Condon with leading the changes at the cemetery.

The 2010 IG inspection had 76 findings, and 101 recommendations, McCoy said. Of those findings, 61 were deficiencies. This year, he reported, there are no deficiencies. There were 31 observations, and two other matters "for consideration" on progress being made. There is still work to be done, the general told lawmakers.

Efforts at Arlington National Cemetery include development of new information technology that both helps workers there track burials and also helps handle the volume of telephone calls to the cemetery. The calls query about locations of those interred there and ask questions about the process of having a loved one buried there.

Condon said all paper records at the cemetery are now scanned into digital information-technology systems, and the Old Guard has done photography on the graves, clarifying for the first time that there are 259,978 gravesite locations in the cemetery.

"But those are just the actual locations, that doesn't tell you the actual number of decedents we have buried in the cemeteries," Condon said.

Now, Condon said, work is being done to match each of the headstones and markers with records at the cemetery. "We are well on our way in that effort."

Also in the works, Condon said is a "Google Maps-like" information system to help manage the grounds and choose spots for interments, as well as to provide directions for guests.

Some lawmakers expressed concern that the Army wasn't up to the task of handling Arlington National Cemetery. They asked if it was outside the core mission of the Army, or if efforts by the Army were in fact duplicating efforts by the Veterans Administration?

"It's been a core mission of the U.S. Army for 150 years," Hallinan said. "Since they interred those first Union Soldiers after the first battle of Manassas."

Hallinan also told legislators that while it is regrettable what happened at Arlington National Cemetery, he believes the Army is best suited to continue its work there -- even more so than the VA.

"Arlington does things completely differently," Hallinan said. "I think if the VA in fact does have Arlington transferred under their jurisdiction, there's going to be some change that they have to deal with. Some very real challenges."

He said the VA does not do the graveside burials the Army does, render the military honors the Army does, or deal with the 4 million visitors a year the Army does, including heads of state.

"These complexities they do not deal with," Hallinan said. "They deal with their regional local cemeteries in their local communities. Arlington is unique, Arlington is special to the American people. It is special to the world."

Condon and Hallinan also addressed concerns about spaces at the cemetery filling up and remedies to deal with this issue. Condon told committee members that initial data she received said they would run out of "niche space" at the cemetery in 2016, and would run out of ground burial space in 2025.

Plans at the cemetery include expansion into a site currently called the "Navy Annex," which is a set of buildings from around the time the Pentagon was built. Also, the "Millennium Project" could expand the cemetery to a nearby picnic area and additional parcels of land in or around the cemetery. Adjusting eligibility for the cemetery -- who can be buried there -- may also extend how long the cemetery can continue to conduct burials.

Hallinan said changing layout patterns in the cemetery, how graves are placed and how close together they are placed, "will increase the yield and longevity of Arlington National Cemetery if we can increase the yield, we may not have to revisit eligibility."

McCoy told lawmakers he believes the efforts both Condon and Hallinan have been making at Arlington National Cemetery represent positive change.

"I believe the progress made at Arlington National Cemetery since last June shows a significant turnaround in performance, and demonstrates the Army's stalwart commitment to ensuring all actions at this national shrine are executed to exacting standards," he said.

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