The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Senate Hears Tesimony on Arlington Mismanagement

This morning the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight hosted a hearing on the recent scandal at Arlington National Cemetery, where hundreds of mismarked graves had been identified by an Army Inspector General investigation. To view video of this morning's hearing, Click Here.

The Army's investigation only focused on a random sampling of Arlington plots and the Senate's own investigation prior to Thursday's hearing clarified that more than 6,000 graves at the cemetery could be mismarked as a result of cemetery management issues.

In the wake of the Army's scathing report, both the cemetery superintendent, John Metzler, and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, were dismissed and the Department of the Army established a new chain of command to ensure proper oversight over Arlington.

Metzler and Higginbotham were both subpoenaed to testify before the committee, though Higginbotham chose not to answer questions and was quickly dismissed by Subcommittee Chairwoman Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Metzler accepted the blame for the scandal, offering his regrets to families whose loved ones were interned at Arlington under his watch.

The hearing focused on a general lack of oversight within the Arlington National Cemetery contracting process, as the cemetery sought to migrate from its paper-based record-keeping system to a digital tracking system similar to what VA uses at its national cemeteries around the country. Arlington officials estimated that nearly $5.5 million had been spent over the years to update the cemetery's record-keeping system, but the Senate's investigation discovered that the figure was closer to $8 million.

Committee members were baffled by answers Metzler gave when asked why VA was able to more effectively transition its systems at all 131 national cemeteries for a fraction of the cost Arlington has amassed since first awarding contracts in 2004.

The hearing took a more positive turn during the second panel's testimony, when Chairwoman McCaskill and Subcommittee Ranking Member Scott Brown, R-Mass., had the opportunity to ask current Army leadership about the command climate change at Arlington since the scandal broke.

Army leaders were contrite in admitting that the department did not exercise proper oversight while Metzler was in charge and that the newly-established chain of command, headed by Kathryn Condon, offered improved transparency and oversight in the process.

Condon, who took on the new role last month, outlined a series of steps Arlington has taken to remedy the situation from double-checking old maps for accuracy and reaching out to VA for insight on how to properly implement digital record-keeping at the nation's most revered veterans' cemetery.

McCaskill said she didn't buy Metzler's notion that a funding and staffing shortfalls led to the mistakes, and that the lack of oversight in contracting at Arlington was tantamount to fraud, waste and abuse. She also indicated that her subcommittee would continue to monitor the situation and look to hold those responsible for the mismanagement accountable for their actions.

AMVETS has been outspoken about the issue at Arlington since the story broke last month, saying that Arlington officials have no room for error because the facility is the nation's testament to the sacrifices of all American veterans.

American Veteran will continue to follow the Arlington story, ensuring that Army leaders keep their promises to ensure that Arlington cemetery properly honors the sacrifices of America's heroes.

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