IG finds 211 misplaced or misidentified graves at Arlington

Defense Department

Army Secretary John McHugh on Thursday removed the top two officials at Arlington National Cemetery after an inspector general investigation found that at least 211 graves were unmarked or misidentified and cremated remains were improperly handled.

A scathing investigation by Army Inspector General R. Steven Whitcomb found gross mismanagement at the nation's most storied burial ground, where the superintendent and his deputy waged a private war against each other and often gave contradictory orders to subordinates.

"This conflicting guidance forces the ANC workforce to choose sides for direction, authority and loyalty. The friction between the two is felt in meetings, in delegations of authority and responsibility, and in daily operations. This, in turn, has contributed to many of the burial errors and mistakes addressed in this investigation," the report said.

There are 330,000 veterans buried at Arlington, nearly one-third of whom were interred since 1990.

"There could in fact be more" misidentified and unmarked graves than the 211 found by investigators, Whitcomb said at a Pentagon briefing for reporters. Such errors have occurred in at least two burials of troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said.

McHugh issued a formal reprimand to ANC Superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. and said Patrick K. Hallinan, who oversees national cemetery policy for Veterans Affairs, will temporarily serve as superintendent until a replacement can be found.

Metzler, whose father was ANC superintendent from 1951 to 1972, will retire July 2, avoiding a more severe punishment, McHugh said.

McHugh also placed Deputy Superintendent Thurman Higginbotham on administrative leave pending a disciplinary review.

A separate IG inspection of Arlington National Cemetery found numerous administrative failures:

  • All governing documents concerning operations at the cemetery were outdated and very few aspects of daily operations were codified.
  • Key administrative positions are vacant or held by contractors unfamiliar with Army regulations and policies.
  • The cemetery's procurement operations do not meet federal, Defense or Army regulations: "Untrained and unqualified personnel are developing requirements and providing contract oversight with no internal or external oversight," the report said.
  • The cemetery lacked adequate resources for managing its huge workload, which includes conducting between 27 and 30 funerals per day.
  • No single Army organization has operational or strategic responsibility and accountability for ANC.

In a directive to senior Army leaders, McHugh outlined a number of changes aimed at improving operations and oversight of Army cemeteries.

Among the changes, McHugh appointed senior executive Kathryn Condon to a new position of Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program. She most recently served as the senior civilian at Army Materiel Command, where she oversaw 60,000 employees in 149 locations worldwide.

Condon's duties will include oversight of cemetery management and she will review and update policies and procedures and implement corrective measures outlined in the IG's inspection and investigation reports.

Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the committee would conduct its own investigation into problems at Arlington.

"It breaks my heart to learn about mismarked gravesites, mishandling of remains, missing documentation, and failures to notify next of kin. This conduct is disgraceful," the Missouri Democrat said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.