In wake of investigation, advancements made at Arlington cemetery

ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, June 10, 2011) — Just one year after an investigation directed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh reported breakdowns in accountability and record-keeping at Arlington National Cemetery, the new management team there has released a list of achievements that have strengthened the cemetery’s management and oversight.

Kathryn A. Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program, and Patrick K. Hallinan, cemetery superintendent, took over management of Arlington National Cemetery in June 2010, after the previous management team was ousted in the wake of the Army’s investigation.

“Arlington National Cemetery leadership, with the full support of the Army, has taken numerous steps to address and correct the problems found by the Army Inspector General and to restore the nation’s confidence in the operation of this most hallowed ground,” Condon said.

The Army Inspector General’s report contained 74 corrective actions and recommendations — all of which have been acted upon over the past year.

Cemetery management also implemented a comprehensive plan to strengthen management, oversight and accountability in the cemetery’s operations, developed a strategy for sustaining the cemetery for the future, and worked to restore trust and confidence in the Army’s stewardship of Arlington National Cemetery.

One of the first priorities has been reconciling more than 146 years worth of data related to burial records.

The accountability effort includes digitally capturing the front and back of each grave marker, and using aerial photography and global positioning technology to digitally map the cemetery’s 624 acres.

Images from the headstones will be matched with digitized paper records, then compared for accuracy. More than 330,000 people are currently interred or inurned at the cemetery.

Arlington management’s efforts will continue to focus on using technology to develop programs and products that not only digitize historic records and improve record-keeping, but will also create a searchable database for use by the public.

The leadership team has also employed new chain-of-custody procedures, rebuilt the workforce, overhauled the automated interment scheduling system, and implemented a financial management system and contracting process. The team also took steps to improve the facilities, equipment and infrastructure on the grounds of the cemetery — none of which were in place a year ago.

“We have greatly strengthened our interment procedures with training and equipment that equal the best national cemeteries, all while conducting 27-30 military funerals a day,” Hallinan said. “What makes Arlington so unique is that it is the only cemetery in the nation that performs gravesite burials and renders full military honors.”

The senior management team was recently completed with the hiring of James Gemmell as deputy superintendent. Previously, Gemmell, an Army veteran, was the director of Fort Snelling National Cemetery, the third largest cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration. Gemmell was also the director of the Department of Veterans Affairs NCA National Training Center.

The Army also has its first-ever agreement with the VA — worked out between McHugh and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki — that allows Arlington employees to enroll in the training center.

The IG’s 2010 investigation criticized the cemetery’s contracting procedures, noting that those in charge of executing contracts lacked training and expertise. Cemetery officials have since slashed the number of contracts by nearly 40 percent, and provided a trained, certified contracting officer representative to oversee and monitor performance for each contract.

Another change made to better serve families was the creation of a Consolidated Customer Service Center. The center handles more than 240 calls each weekday, with nearly one in five calls requesting funeral services.

In order to meet the demand for funeral services, Arlington officials began allowing burial services not requiring military honors to be schedule on Saturday. Previously, funerals were held only Monday through Friday.

WASHINGTON — A new manager has been brought in at Arlington National Cemetery, capping a yearlong struggle to revamp burial procedures and record-keeping after a spate of grave mix-ups that marred the reputation of the U.S. military’s most hallowed ground.

The Army says that James Gemmell, former director of the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota, will be deputy superintendent at Arlington. His hiring fills out the new management team, a year after a highly critical Army inspector general’s report found at least 211 discrepancies between burial maps and actual grave sites.

Officials in September determined that two people were buried in the wrong graves, and in December they discovered eight sets of cremated remains buried in one grave, with a headstone marked “unknown.” The IG’s report found cemetery operations were poorly managed, understaffed and antiquated.

The problems unleashed an emotional torrent of protests from families and veterans, including from distraught spouses who found they had been visiting and leaving flowers at graves for years only to find out that their loved ones were not buried there.

The Army since has struggled to correct the problems, setting up new automated systems, hiring more staff, drafting stricter identification standards and creating a searchable database that the public will be able to access.

Arlington officials have also started allowing some burial services that don’t require military honors to be done on Saturdays in order to meet demands.

The new staff has been working to reconcile more than 146 years’ worth of burial data, digitally capturing the front and back of each marker to match with paper records and aerial photographs mapping the cemetery’s 624 acres.

“No one should doubt the commitment of the U.S. Army to do whatever is required to fix the problems identified at Arlington National Cemetery last year,” Army spokesman Gary Tallman said Friday.

Each year almost 4 million people visit Arlington, where more than 300,000 remains are buried, including those of troops from conflicts dating to the Civil War, as well as U.S. presidents and their spouses and other U.S. officials. There are between 27 and 30 military funerals a day.

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