No peace in life at Arlington Cemetery. (mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery)

As the final resting place of patriots, Arlington National Cemetery emits a carefully cultivated aura of respect and serenity. But there is less peace for those who work above its hallowed ground than for the heroes interred below, according to confidential U.S. Army reports obtained by waste & abuse.

Behind its tidy white rows of headstones, impeccably manicured spaces and outward tranquility, Arlington, or ANC, is the site of bureaucratic bickering, mismanagement, morale problems and racial tensions, according to Army inspector general “climate assessments” conducted last year. “The atmosphere of turmoil, distrust, mismanagement and poor employee morale has continued [from the early 1990s] to the present,” according to a Freedom of Information Act-exempt summary of the reports. “There is an overwhelming  sense of frustration among employees and the senior leadership at ANC.”

Fairly or not, the memo lays much of the blame for ANC's morale and management malaise on  the “auto-cratic management style” of cemetery superintendent John Metzler, and suggests  that little improvement is expected during his tenure. “There is no indication that the  superintendent will ever change,” the memo states, “and employees have lost confidence in  his leadership ability.”

“Group-sensing sessions” conducted at the cemetery last year found that a communication breakdown had occurred between ANC employees and management, and additional tensions exist between Metzler and his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham. The IG bemoaned the lack of  “team leadership,” “sharing and consideration of others” and “unified direction” resulting from  the rifts. The IG also found that the “dissension and discord” between the top two leaders  “has a significant impact on the overall efficiency of the day-to-day operations of ANC.”

The IG also found ANC officials slow to correct alleged environmental hazards identified at the facility in 1992 — “violations” of health and safety standards which, the IG says, expose the Army to “possible significant embarrassment and possible monetary liability” if left uncorrected. The report continues, “The unhealthy conditions at the pesticide-storage areas, old paint shop (still being used) and the carpenter shop are just some examples where ANC has failed to take care of its workforce since being notified of violations in 1992.” The cemetery's safety program “is only perfunctory in nature,” the IG states, “and many  employees work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions.”

Racial tensions also seem to be percolating away at the facility. Although charges of outright racial discrimination “could not be substantiated” by the IG a 1992 inquiry found “over one-third of the [black] employees felt they were not treated fairly most of the time.”

However, the IG “did find inappropriate attitudes and behaviors that existed among both white and black employees” — which it chalked up to a lack of “consideration-of-others training” at ANC, rather than rampant racism.

Black employees in one division “always” referred to whites in another division as “white dudes,” the IG sniffs, and “continued this description or pattern of speech even after it was brought to their attention … as being inappropriate.” In other cases, black employees referred to ANC as “the plantation” (which it once was before the Union army confiscated the property from the family of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee during the Civil War) and themselves as “fieldworkers.” Some employees claimed to have overheard Metzler make “discriminatory remarks,” and that white employees were told to separate themselves from  blacks if they wanted to get ahead. And one official continually derided subordinates as members of”McNamara's 100,000″ — a reference to a period during the Vietnam War when the former defense secretary lowered intelligence standards to increase enlistments.

Metzler called the reports “one-sided” during an interview with waste & abuse, saying “my input has not been sought” by the IG on any of the findings. And he denied that morale, management, environmental or racial problems existed at the cemetery.

These revelations may appear trivial compared with the bureaucratic bumbling and managerial mayhem found elsewhere in the federal government, and might even be dismissed as predictable employee-management disputes. But Arlington National Cemetery is no ordinary place, judging from the furor leading to the exhumation of Democratic fund-raiser and former ambassador Larry Lawrence. It should be held to a higher standard.

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