Army IG Testifies to Congress on Arlington Cemetery Progress
By David Vergun
Army News Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2012 Within the last two years, Arlington National Cemetery has seen much progress in correcting gravesite deficiencies, increasing customer service, and instituting effective computer recordkeeping, the Army’s inspector general said here today.
Lt. Gen. Peter Vangjel testified at a joint House Armed Services Committee hearing about accountability at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The IG reported 61 deficiencies in 2010, among them, a deplorable organizational climate, archaic recordkeeping and automation systems, uncontrolled contracting and budgeting processes and gravesite accountability. In contrast one year later, there were no deficiencies reported,” he said.
Vangjel added that significant progress continues to be made, noting that “Arlington is beginning to transition from successful crisis management to sustained excellence.”
There’s still much work left to do, he said, including complete documentation and validation of internal oversight processes and controls, continuation of gravesite accountability and enduring external oversight processes to prevent past shortcomings.
Also testifying at the hearing were Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program Kathryn A. Condon; Acquisition and Sourcing Management Director Belva Martin from the Government Accountability Office; and Defense Capabilities and Management Director Brian Lepore, from the GAO.
Condon, Martin and Lepore agreed with Vangjel’s assessment of progress in addressing deficiencies at the cemetery, while acknowledging areas that still need improvement.
Condon noted that although 212,674 gravesites had been accounted for, 18 percent were still in the process of being verified. She said the procedure involved obtaining records going back to the Civil War and analyzing census data, military records and even using the website ancestory.com to match photos of deceased swith at least two verifiable records. Condon said the goal is to provide instant Internet access to pictures and gravesite information for family members, as well as gravesite accountability.
Other areas that Condon said will improve include the cemetery’s contracting process. She said a senior contracting professional is in the process of being hired to oversee the process and ensure effectiveness.
She said that $50 million spent in the past has been accounted for, and that $12 million is currently being tracked and will be accounted for.
Martin explained that problems in contracting over the past two years included inaccurate documentation, unclear wording of deliverables resulting in services not rendered, procurement of information technologies that were not useful and a general lack of properly executed contracts.
Lepore was asked his opinion on whether or not ANC should be transferred from control of the Army to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He advised a cost benefit analysis be conducted and cautioned that a premature change of jurisdiction could create more problems. He recommended several years of collaboration between the Army and the VA, so the best procedures and systems from each can be instituted and then a determination be made.
Several congressmen expressed their deep concern with a lack of accountability for those who mismanaged the cemetery in the past.
In response to questions of personal accountability, Vangjel said he would keep subcommittee members informed on developments of any forthcoming punitive actions, but explained that determination of judicial proceedings are now in the hands of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Department of Justice.
“We owe it to the soldiers and families and to future generations to restore the honor to our nation’s heroes at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), summarizing the feelings of hearing attendees.