USA — Arlington Cemetery Officials Punished for Poor Management

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2010 — The top two offi­cials in charge of Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery here were dis­ci­plined after an Army inves­ti­ga­tion found the cemetery’s man­age­ment to be “dys­func­tion­al,” Army Sec­re­tary John M. McHugh announced today at the Pen­ta­gon.

Army National Cemeteries Program / Arlington National Cemetery
Sec­re­tary of the Army John M. McHugh announces at a June 10, 2010, Pen­ta­gon press con­fer­ence that in light of find­ings of inap­pro­pri­ate prac­tices and mis­man­age­ment at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, he is reliev­ing the cemetery’s cur­rent super­in­ten­dent and deputy super­in­ten­dent of their duties and plac­ing Kathryn Con­don (right) in the new­ly cre­at­ed role of Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Army Nation­al Ceme­ter­ies Pro­gram.
DoD pho­to by R. D. Ward
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The Army inspec­tor gen­er­al com­plet­ed a months-long report on June 8 that iden­ti­fied 76 sep­a­rate defi­cien­cies as well as 101 rec­om­men­da­tions to improve oper­a­tions at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. Most sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the report found poor record­keep­ing allowed occu­pied gravesites to be improp­er­ly marked or often not marked at all.

The Army stripped Super­in­ten­dent John Met­zler of all author­i­ty, but he will remain on staff until his retire­ment July 2. His deputy, Thur­man Higgen­both­am, was placed on admin­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing addi­tion­al per­son­nel actions. Both are career fed­er­al civ­il ser­vants.

“A major­i­ty of these find­ings are deeply trou­bling and unac­cept­able,” McHugh told reporters today at a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence. “The [inspec­tor gen­er­al] found Arlington’s mis­sion ham­pered by dys­func­tion­al man­age­ment, by a lack of estab­lished poli­cies and pro­ce­dures and an over­all unhealthy orga­ni­za­tion­al envi­ron­ment.

The report deter­mined the improp­er intern­ment of remains, includ­ing the loss of account­abil­i­ty for remains, names and graves list­ed as emp­ty, he said. McHugh also cit­ed improp­er main­te­nance and clean­ing of graves.

“That all ends today,” he said firm­ly, lat­er adding that “there’s sim­ply no excuse” for the neg­a­tive find­ings in the report.

McHugh estab­lished a new posi­tion to over­see the Army Nation­al Ceme­ter­ies Pro­gram. Kather­ine Con­don was appoint­ed exec­u­tive direc­tor of the ceme­ter­ies pro­gram and she “has total super­vi­so­ry pow­ers per­tain­ing to all busi­ness and oper­a­tional activ­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with Army ceme­ter­ies,” the sec­re­tary said.

Con­don served as the senior civil­ian for the Army Mate­r­i­al Com­mand before accept­ing the posi­tion.

Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki also agreed to lend his department’s exper­tise in ceme­tery oper­a­tions. Patrick K. Hal­li­nan, direc­tor of the Office of Field Pro­grams for the VA, will be tem­porar­i­ly reas­signed as Arlington’s super­in­ten­dent. Hal­li­nan cur­rent­ly over­sees 130 nation­al ceme­ter­ies.

Also, McHugh estab­lished an Army Nation­al Ceme­tery Advi­so­ry Com­mis­sion. For­mer Sens. Bob Dole and Max Cle­land are charged with lead­ing the group. Both for­mer leg­is­la­tors have the expe­ri­ence for the job. Dole co-chaired a com­mis­sion that inves­ti­gat­ed defi­cien­cies at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in 2007, and Cle­land is a for­mer VA sec­re­tary.

McHugh said he’s “deeply grate­ful” for the help he’s enlist­ed. But more notice­ably, the for­mer New York con­gress­man said he was bat­tered with guilt and expressed his apolo­gies to the fam­i­lies of the fall­en buried in Arling­ton.

“On behalf of the Unit­ed States Army and on behalf of myself, I deeply apol­o­gize to the fam­i­lies of the hon­ored fall­en rest­ing in that hal­lowed ground who may now ques­tion the care afford­ed to their loved ones,” he said.

The Army and Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery will bounce back, McHugh said.

“The Army owes bet­ter,” he said. “I’m unable to explain the past, but I can promise this about the future. The Unit­ed States Army will take every step nec­es­sary to ful­ly ensure that every chal­lenge, every need at Arling­ton is clear­ly under­stood and effec­tive­ly addressed.

“We owe no less to our depart­ed heroes, no less to the loved ones of this nation who, when the call was sound­ed, stepped for­ward to serve,” McHugh con­tin­ued. “The bet­ter tomor­rows for Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery begin today.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)