February 7, 2012

IG testifies to Congress: Arlington Cemetery making progress

by David Vergun
Army News Service
Pfc. Brent Benbow of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), kneels to photograph the front and rear of a tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2011. Benbow was part of a task force that documented every tombstone, grave marker and cremation site in the cemetery for an electronic database.
Pfc. Brent Benbow of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), kneels to photograph the front and rear of a tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2011. Benbow was part of a task force that documented every tombstone, grave marker and cremation site in the cemetery for an electronic database.

Within the last two years, Arlington National Cemetery has seen much progress in correcting gravesite deficiencies, increasing customer service, and instituting effective computer record keeping, said the Army’s inspector general.

Lt. Gen. Peter Vangjel testified Feb. 3 at a joint hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel and the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee about accountability at Arlington National Cemetery.

“The IG reported 61 deficiencies in 2010, among them, a deplorable organizational climate, archaic record keeping and automation systems, uncontrolled contracting and budgeting processes and gravesite accountability. In contrast one year later, there were no deficiencies reported,” he said, adding that significant progress continues to be made, and “Arlington is beginning to transition from successful crisis management to sustained excellence.

“There’s still much work left to do,” he said, including complete documentation and validation of internal oversight processes and controls, continuation of gravesite accountability and enduring external oversight processes to prevent past shortcomings.

Also testifying at the hearing were Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program Kathryn A. Condon; Acquisition and Sourcing Management Director Belva Martin of the Government Accountability Office; and Defense Capabilities and Management Director Brian Lepore, GAO.

Condon, Martin and Lepore agreed with Vangjel’s assessment of progress in addressing deficiencies, while acknowledging areas that still need improvement.

Condon noted that although 212,674 gravesites had been accounted for, 18 percent were still in the process of being verified. She said the procedure involved obtaining records going back to the Civil War and analyzing census data, military records and even using the website to match photos of deceased soldiers with at least two verifiable records.

Condon said the goal is to provide instant Internet access to pictures and gravesite information for family members, as well as gravesite accountability.

Other areas that Condon said will improve include the contracting process. She said a senior contracting professional is in the process of being hired to oversee the process and ensure effectiveness.

She said that $50 million spent in the past has been accounted for and recovered and that $12 million is currently being tracked and will be accounted for.

Martin explained that problems in contracting in the past two years included inaccurate documentation, unclear wording of deliverables resulting in services not rendered, procurement of information technologies that were not useful and a general lack of properly executed contracts.

Lepore was asked his opinion on whether or not Arlington National Cemetery should be transferred from control of the Army to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He advised a cost benefit analysis be conducted and cautioned that a premature change of jurisdiction could create more problems. He recommended several years of collaboration between the Army and the VA, so the best procedures and systems from each can be instituted and then determination be made.

Several congressmen expressed their deep concern with a lack of accountability for those who mismanaged the cemetery in the past.

In response to questions of personal accountability, Vangjel said he would keep subcommittee members informed on developments of any forthcoming punitive actions, but explained that determination of judicial proceedings are now in the hands of the Criminal Investigation Division and the Department of Justice.

“We owe it to the Soldiers and families and to future generations to restore the honor to our nation’s heroes at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., summarizing the feelings of hearing attendees.

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One Comment

  1. Shelly Quinn

    It’s nice to see that someone is doing something about this and not forgetting our fallen soldiers.

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