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  • All governing documents concerning operations at the cemetery were outdated and very few aspects of daily operations were codified.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.

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