USA — Army Works to Right Wrongs at Arlington, Secretary Says

WASHINGTON — The Army is tak­ing every mea­sure pos­si­ble to fix the prob­lems at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery, and it should con­tin­ue to man­age the nation’s “most hal­lowed ground,” Army Sec­re­tary John M. McHugh told a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee today.

The top two offi­cials in charge of ceme­tery were dis­ci­plined ear­li­er this month after an Army inves­ti­ga­tion found the cemetery’s man­age­ment to be dysfunctional. 

“For 146 years, the Army has proud­ly served in the admin­is­tra­tion of this hal­lowed ground,” McHugh told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “Clear­ly, we lost that com­mit­ment and that record of suc­cess. I want to pledge that the Army is doing every­thing nec­es­sary and pos­si­ble to right these unimag­in­able, unac­cept­able wrongs.” 

McHugh, a for­mer con­gress­man who served as the committee’s rank­ing mem­ber before being appoint­ed Army sec­re­tary in Sep­tem­ber, out­lined the mea­sures he has tak­en since Army Inspec­tor Gen­er­al Lt. Gen. R. Steven Whit­comb issued a June 8 report iden­ti­fy­ing 76 defi­cien­cies at the ceme­tery and 101 rec­om­men­da­tions for change. 

McHugh said he has ordered struc­tur­al and lead­er­ship changes, includ­ing rescind­ing “frac­tured, unman­age­able over­sight” in the cemetery’s super­in­ten­dent and deputy super­in­ten­dent and appoint­ing Kathryn Con­don, a senior Army civil­ian exec­u­tive, to a new posi­tion of exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­ter­ies Program. 

The sec­re­tary also said he has estab­lished an Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery over­sight group, and an advi­so­ry com­mis­sion that is head­ed by for­mer U.S. Sens. Robert Dole and Max Cle­land, both war vet­er­ans. Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki has detailed two offi­cials with the VA’s Nation­al Ceme­tery Admin­is­tra­tion to help with the over­haul, he said. 

McHugh reject­ed a sug­ges­tion that Arling­ton be turned over to the Nation­al Ceme­tery Admin­is­tra­tion. “I’m not sure it’s the fair thing to do to bur­den oth­er agen­cies with the stress­es of the Unit­ed States Army,” he said. “For over a cen­tu­ry and a half, the Army has helped to pol­ish its rep­u­ta­tion [at Arling­ton], but clear­ly that record been tar­nished. We will work as hard as pos­si­ble to [fix] what we con­sid­er an Army problem.” 

Near­ly half of the rough­ly 330,000 peo­ple interred at Arling­ton are Army sol­diers, McHugh not­ed. “We feel it’s impor­tant, espe­cial­ly dur­ing this time of war, that the Army stay respon­si­ble for inter­ring our fall­en heroes,” he said. “Until we’re ordered to step down, we’re going forward.” 

McHugh also rescind­ed Army “Gen­er­al Order 13,” which was the man­age­ment author­i­ty for the ceme­tery. That order, he said, inad­ver­tent­ly led to a lack of over­sight at the ceme­tery. “There was real con­fu­sion among the agen­cies as to who had exact over­sight author­i­ties,” McHugh said. “By plac­ing every­one in charge, no one was in charge. There were no clear lines of who was in charge. What­ev­er the rea­sons, it should nev­er have happened.” 

Now, he said, “the lines of author­i­ty are clear from the deputy direc­tor right to my desk.” 

McHugh said he also has ordered audits of all con­tracts at Arling­ton, which the report found to be rife with irreg­u­lar­i­ties. The find­ings will be turned over to Army crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tors, he said. 

The IG report already was under way when he took office in Sep­tem­ber, McHugh said, and he ordered it expand­ed in Novem­ber to inves­ti­gate sev­er­al oth­er ceme­tery func­tions. He said he has tried to be trans­par­ent in pub­li­ciz­ing and fix­ing the problems. 

Whit­comb, who tes­ti­fied along­side McHugh, put blame with Arlington’s senior lead­ers and not its 95 employ­ees. “While our find­ings raised very seri­ous issues and require sig­nif­i­cant reme­di­al actions,” he said, “I want to make clear that Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery employ­ees work under extra­or­di­nar­i­ly high oper­a­tions tem­po with a lack of lead­er­ship and still man­age to serve our sol­diers, hon­or their fam­i­lies, and hon­or all Amer­i­cans with first-class services.” 

The Army’s pri­or­i­ty at Arling­ton now is in exam­in­ing the 211 graves that the report iden­ti­fied as not match­ing up with site maps and bur­ial cards, McHugh said. The Army hopes to accept some offers of North­ern Vir­ginia-based pri­vate infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy firms to cross-check the infor­ma­tion of all of the cemetery’s graves, he said. 

The Army has ver­i­fied 27 of the 211 graves as being record­ing mis­takes on site maps, mean­ing graves nev­er exist­ed in those loca­tions, he said. 

Upon release of the IG report, the Army estab­lished a call cen­ter from which peo­ple could seek infor­ma­tion about the graves of loved ones. So far, McHugh said, 867 calls have been received, and the ser­vice has resolved 169 of the cases. 

The Army also will assess mil­i­tary ceme­ter­ies out­side the Unit­ed States to find out if sim­i­lar prob­lems exist there, McHugh said. “We’re not just stop­ping at Arling­ton,” he said. “Where we find defi­cien­cies, we will address them.” 

The changes so far are just the start, McHugh said. “For us, this is the begin­ning of the process, and we are going to pur­sue it to its end.” 

The Army sec­re­tary said he wel­comes the committee’s con­tin­ued over­sight of the matter. 

“These prob­lems were com­mit­ted under the watch of the Army, and it’s the Army’s respon­si­bil­i­ty going for­ward,” McHugh said. “For all impor­tance Army places on this, Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery was some­what of a satel­lite spin­ning off in the dis­tance. The more eyes on the process, the better.” 

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

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