Bill seeks to resolve errors at Arlington

Senators have unveiled a bipartisan bill aimed at helping Arlington National Cemetery's leaders identify and resolve gravesite errors, and implement a new organizational structure.

The legislation (S. 3860), introduced on Tuesday by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., comes in response to two June Army inspector general reports that found hundreds of mismarked and empty gravesites at Arlington. McCaskill is chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, and Brown is ranking member. They were joined by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Richard Burr, R-N.C.

During a subcommittee hearing in July, lawmakers said the problem could be worse than originally thought, with thousands not hundreds of mistakes. They vowed to follow up and ensure the errors were corrected.

The bill would require the Army secretary to report to Congress on the cemetery's ability to properly identify and locate each gravesite and to resolve any mix-ups. The secretary also would be responsible for informing Congress of progress in developing a new management and oversight structure at Arlington.

The secretary and the Government Accountability Office would oversee contract management at the cemetery and report findings to Congress. During the July hearing, John C. Metzler, former Arlington superintendent, took full responsibility for the gravesite errors and for millions of dollars wasted on a failed project to automate gravesite tracking. At the time the IG conducted its investigation, Arlington continued to rely predominantly on paper records of graves, which are more prone to human error.

In addition, the legislation would charge GAO with overseeing the cemetery's outreach to families of those buried at Arlington.

"After our July hearing, I made a promise to the American public and to the families of those brave men and women buried at Arlington that the hearing would not be the end of Congress' oversight of this problem," McCaskill said on Tuesday.

Brown added, "This bill is an important step toward ensuring that the families of service members never again will be forced to endure such devastating and emotional turmoil."

A McCaskill spokeswoman said on Wednesday there is no companion bill in the House, but there is some interest in creating one.

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