WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following a July hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight which revealed the possibility of thousands of unmarked or improperly marked gravesites, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Scott Brown (R-MA), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced legislation to help the new leadership at the cemetery structure a plan to identify and remedy errors. Following the July hearing, the Senators pledged to follow up on the results and ensure that the Army investigates and systematically fixes any identified problems. This legislation directs the Secretary of the Army to review and report to Congress on the progress being made at Arlington to fix errors in burial records and improve contracts oversight at the cemetery.
"My heart goes out to the families affected by the problems at Arlington Cemetery. They have already lost a loved one and should not have to face any more heartache or uncertainty," Senator Burr said. "We must ensure that the families of veterans have no doubts about the final resting place of their loved ones who courageously served our country."
"After our July hearing, I made a promise to the American public and to the families of those brave men and women buried at Arlington that the hearing would not be the end of Congress's oversight of this problem," Senator McCaskill said. "I'm confident that the Army and the Cemetery are both taking this very seriously, but this legislation will help hold the folks at Arlington accountable for their progress in identifying and fixing any errors in the burial records, changing the way they manage contracts, and for their efforts to reach out to families who are suffering from this unnecessary heartbreak."
"The problems uncovered at Arlington National Cemetery have made national headlines and have tarnished a sacred trust with military families. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill to ensure that those responsible for managing Arlington National Cemetery are being held accountable and meeting the highest standards when it comes to ensuring the proper burials of America's fallen men and women. This bill is an important step toward ensuring that the families of Service members families never again will be forced to endure such devastating and emotional turmoil," Senator Brown said.
"The more we investigate the gross negligence at Arlington National Cemetery, the more we understand the extent of the mismanagement," said Senator Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "The U.S. Army's careless oversight of Arlington National Cemetery led to missing burial records, hundreds of mismarked, unmarked or mislabeled graves and dumped burial urns. It has also resulted in a serious breach of trust between the Army and the families of those interned there, many of whom gave their lives in service to this nation. I will continue to fight for a complete overhaul of Arlington National Cemetery's management, which must be held accountable. We must help ensure that Arlington National Cemetery never again fails to provide our nation's heroes and their families with the highest levels of dignity and respect, worthy of their sacrifices."
Many of the problems at Arlington National Cemetery resulted from a failed effort to automate how the Cemetery tracks burial records and manages burial operations. Despite spending between $5and $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, has also been stationed at Arlington National Cemetery, to help sort out the problems and reorganize the oversight and management systems.
Today's legislation will codify the new organizational structure and ensure that the management at Arlington is accountable to Congress. Specifically, the legislation 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 every gravesite 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 transferring the control of Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery to the Department of Veterans Affairs.