Veterans

March 18, 2013

‘No delays in burials’ despite budget cuts at Arlington

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David Vergun
Army News Service

A visitor to Arlington National Cemetery, Va., uses a free web-based app, which allows families and the public to locate gravesites, events and points of interest throughout the cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery staff won’t be furloughed “so there will be no delays in burials,” but needed infrastructure improvements are on hold for now, said Arlington National Cemetery’s leader.

Repairs to crumbling roads, planned expansions to the cemetery and replacing deteriorating waterlines are all on hold due to budget shortfalls resulting from the continuing resolution and sequestration, Kathryn A. Condon, executive director, Army National Military Cemeteries, told lawmakers.

Condon expressed concern for Arlington’s immediate and long-term operational future during her statement submitted March 13 to a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans’ affairs.

The cemetery’s fiscal year 2013 budget request was for $173.8 million and 201 employees, she said. A full-year continuing resolution would be a $128 million and 31-employee reduction from that requested.

Sequestration is taking an added 5-percent bite from that FY13 budget, she added.

The requested fiscal year 2013 budget would have funded $45.8 million for operating costs, plus $103 million for expansion projects and $25 million for critical infrastructure restoration and modernization, she explained.

Projects off life support

The Millennium Project will expand the cemetery with land transferred from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. The project has reached the 65-percent design point, Condon said, but without funding, construction cannot begin as planned in September.

Removal of the buildings at the former Navy Annex, with planned expansion of the cemetery, there cannot go forward either, Condon said.

Budget cuts could also impact safety, she said.

“Many of our roads are also in disrepair and crumbling after years of patching, and require replacement to allow safe operations for our ceremonial units and horses pulling the caissons, and to present the appearance required of a national shrine,” she said.

Water pressure problems across 40,000 feet of 50-year-old waterlines has resulted in “recurring, expensive and operationally threatening floods and stoppage of water to the Tomb of the Unknowns Sentinels and others working at the cemetery,” Condon said.

Surviving projects

The Columbarium Court #9 expansion project, extending Arlington’s above-ground interments through 2024, will be dedicated May 9, completed in less than two years after its groundbreaking, Condon said.

Arlington National Cemetery has been finding ways to save money over the last several years.

“My resource managers’ meticulous efforts reconciling prior-year accounts resulted in Arlington recovering over $32.6 million, benefiting Arlington across all aspects of our mission,” she told lawmakers.

“For instance, the Columbarium Court #9 and our Enterprise Architecture were fully funded by prior-year recoveries,” she said. “For burial operations, these recoveries allowed us to purchase more turf-friendly equipment, minimizing the impact of older, heavier equipment on [Arlington National Cemetery] grounds and helping our workforce meet the exacting burial industry standards.

“These funds are enabling us to repair the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame, ensuring this iconic memorial remains functional, safe and more energy-efficient for future generations,” she added.

Condon said the recoveries have also funded critical facilities and infrastructure repair throughout the cemetery, such as rebuilding portions of Memorial Drive; replacing the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in the Welcome Center and Arlington National Cemetery Administration Building, both which have failed over the past two summers; and repairing 2,500 linear feet of the most deteriorated 2-inch, 6-inch and 16-inch water lines throughout the cemetery.

Gravesite tracking

The Government Accountability Office and the Army Inspector General are providing oversight to Arlington National Cemetery’s burial-identification process, which began in earnest a few years ago.

Arlington National Cemetery is committed to maintaining the chain-of-custody for all remains, “ensuring that a non-negotiable standard of accountability is beyond reproach for everyone resting in solemn repose at Arlington,” Condon said.

By the end of April, Condon said she expects to complete the final phase identification data for all gravesites at Arlington. This includes a valid accountability process, list of the dispositive records and grave markers and geospatial location of everyone interred or inurned.

Beginning last year, Arlington National Cemetery became the first national cemetery to be digitally mapped. Also, Arlington National Cemetery launched a free web-based app to allow families and the public to locate gravesites, events and points of interest throughout the cemetery, she said.

Also, the Center of Military History has cataloged and helped restore and preserve 44 boxes and 846 folders of maps, pictures and papers documenting almost 150 years of Arlington National Cemetery’s history, she added.

Environmental stewards

Arlington National Cemetery workers are now using hybrid vehicles, building sidewalks of recycled materials, incorporating earth- and wildlife-friendly landscaping across the cemetery’s 624 acres, relying on computers to reduce paper consumption and purchasing environmentally-sensitive supplies, Condon said.

Also, Arlington National Cemetery requested Army Environmental Command to complete two inspections of the cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery has completed 38 of 39 Environmental Performance Assessment System, or EPAS, violations that were found, she said.

However, the final EPAS violation not yet remedied requires more than $10.5 million to repair and upgrade the storm drainage system in nine burial sections across the cemetery that contribute to water pollution along the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Funds may be hard to come by to do that work.

In her closing remarks, Condon told lawmakers, “As the secretary of the Army noted in his September letter to Congress, the changes ‘have transformed Arlington National Cemetery and the (Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery) into premier institutions of excellence capable of setting the standards for federal cemeteries across the nation.”




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