Arlington cemetery’s No. 2 man retires

Arlington National Cemetery’s deputy superintendent has retired before Army officials could compel him to meet with a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee investigating contracting irregularities, including over $5 million paid to a series of minority-owned start-up companies that failed to produce a digitized system for cataloging remains.

Thurman Higginbotham, the cemetery’s longtime second-in-command, submitted paperwork last week to make his retirement retroactive to July 2, 2010, the week Army officials were notified that congressional staffers were seeking to interview him regarding dozens of botched contracts.

Higginbotham had been placed on administrative leave last month pending disciplinary review after Army investigators found more than 100 unmarked graves, scores of grave sites with headstones not recorded on cemetery maps, and at least four burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped in an area with excess grave dirt.

Investigators found that those and other blunders were the result of a “dysfunctional” and chaotic management system, poisoned by bitterness between Higginbotham and the cemetery’s superintendent, John C. Metzler Jr.

Metzler was reprimanded but allowed to retire this month with full pension benefits. On Tuesday, Higginbotham’s eligibility for retirement benefits was not immediately clear. He had worked at Arlington for more than 40 years and served as its deputy superintendent since 1990.

Cemetery spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst said Higginbotham’s retirement was being reviewed, but that generally an employee’s departure precludes the Army from taking further administrative action.

The Army’s investigation of “wrongdoing while Higginbotham was still employed” continues, Horst said. It is too soon to tell whether that investigation could lead to either criminal or civil action, she said.

Most immediately, Higginbotham’s departure sets up a potential showdown with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on contracting oversight. The committee’s chair, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), has scheduled a July 29, 2010, hearing into the cemetery’s alleged contracting improprieties.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment