Bill to Remedy Problems At Arlington Cemetery Signed into Law
Law will hold new leadership at the Cemetery and Secretary of the Army accountable to Congress for identity and location of gravesites
December 23, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Barack Obama last night signed into law a bill, S. 3860, that will hold the Secretary of the Army accountable to Congress on the Cemetery's ability to identify and fix any errors in the burial records for gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery. The bill, introduced by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Scott Brown (R-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Richard Burr (R-NC) also requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct an independent review and report on the management and oversight of contracts at the cemetery, as well as a study of who would be best to oversee the cemetery.
The legislation was prompted by the discovery of unmarked or improperly marked graves at Arlington National Cemetery and a subsequent investigation by the Army's Inspector General. McCaskill and Brown held a hearing this summer in the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight that revealed contracting failures and raised concern about the potential that thousands more graves at Arlington may be unmarked, improperly marked or mislabeled.
"The courageous men and women laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery dedicated their lives to protecting our freedom. These are our American heroes, and they deserve to be treated with the honor and dignity befitting of their sacrifices," Senator McCaskill said. "I'm relieved this new law will ensure that the egregious errors made at Arlington are never repeated. That said, this is a bittersweet victory for all those with loved ones at this sacred ground."
"This new law is the result of our long investigation and hopefully marks the end of a sad chapter in the history of Arlington National Cemetery. It is my sincere hope that this law will help give families a sense of peace by ensuring that their loved ones have been laid to rest properly and with the respect they deserve. I appreciate my colleagues on both sides of the aisle working together with compassion and diligence to ensure that we adequately address the problems at Arlington in a timely manner," Senator Brown said.
"I am pleased that the Congress has passed and the President has signed our bill to ensure that our military men and women buried at Arlington National Cemetery are given the utmost honor and dignity," said Senator Collins. "This most basic expectation has been neglected for too long. Our new law provides for an audit of all graves and will imposes tighter oversight by the Army and the Congress of contracts at Arlington National Cemetery. Each Christmas season since 1992, wreaths made of Maine balsam fir have been placed with care - by Mainers and others -- on the final resting places of our heroes. I expect the new leaders of the cemetery to treat the graves -- and the families that mourn at them -- with equal respect and honor."
"After years of terrible lapses at the highest management levels at Arlington Cemetery, there is now hope that the remains of soldiers buried on these sacred grounds will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as fallen heroes. This legislation will hold the Army accountable for installing capable leadership and oversight mechanisms, including 21st century data management technology. The families of those interred at Arlington Cemetery have endured needless heartache on top of the loss of their loved ones. This legislation should begin to restore their faith that the nation is grateful for the sacrifices they have endured," Senator Lieberman said.
"The neglect at Arlington Cemetery is more than embarrassing. It's a tragedy that has caused significant heartache for families who have already sacrificed for our country. Fallen soldiers and their families deserve the best that we can give them. Now that this bill has been signed into law, we are one step closer to correcting the wrongs that have already occurred," Senator Burr said.
Many of the previous problems at Arlington National Cemetery resulted from a failed effort to automate how the cemetery tracks burial records and manage burial operations. Despite spending between $5 and $8 million on multiple IT contracts over seven years, the cemetery's complex records remain in paper form and prone to human errors. The documents and information that were presented at the July hearing suggest that thousands of graves may be unmarked, improperly marked, or mislabeled on the cemetery's maps.
Following a June 2010 U.S. Army Inspector General (IG) report that found many of the problems at Arlington National Cemetery, the Secretary of the Army established a new organizational structure at the cemetery and created a new leadership position that reports directly to the secretary. A senior official from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which successfully manages over 130 veterans cemeteries nationwide, is also helping the Army to sort out the problems and reorganize the oversight and management systems at Arlington National Cemetery.
The law will ensure that the management at Arlington is accountable to Congress.
Specifically, the law will:
·Require the Secretary of the Army to report to Congress on the Cemetery's ability to verify the identity, location and burial records for gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery and the plans to remedy any errors found.
·Require the Secretary of the Army to report to Congress on the progress at Arlington on changing the management and oversight structure at Arlington National Cemetery, including contract management and practices for providing information and outreach to families of individuals buried at Arlington.
·Require the Government Accountability Office to oversee and report to Congress on the management and oversight of contracts at Arlington National Cemetery, including oversight of:
o All contracts for the automation of burial operations
o Cemetery contract management and coordination with Army contracting agencies
o Any corrective action taken to address the IG report's findings
o The Cemetery's compliance with directives from the Secretary of the Army and recommendations from the Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission
o Cemetery practices for providing information and outreach to families of individuals buried at Arlington
o Feasibility and advisability of sharing jurisdiction with or transferring the control of Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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