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IG praises reforms at Arlington Cemetery

Sep. 20, 2012 - 11:34AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 20, 2012 - 11:34AM  |  
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McLEAN, Va. — New leaders at Arlington National Cemetery have transformed the burial ground into a top-notch institution after officials uncovered mismanagement and misidentified graves two years ago, according to a Pentagon inspector general report released Thursday.

The inspector general concludes that Arlington and another cemetery run by the Army, the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, "have transformed ... into premiere institutions of excellence capable of setting the standards for federal cemeteries across the nation."

The report in particular cites the implementation of geospatial technology to track cemetery operations — the first national cemetery to do so, according to the report. It also cites progress in an ongoing effort to verify the names and dates on all of the headstones and grave markers at Arlington. More than 400,000 people are buried there, and as of Monday, 96 percent of those markers have been verified for accuracy. Another 8,400 gravesites still require verification, mostly in the oldest sections of the cemetery where the existing records — which in some cases date back 150 years — are sometimes incomplete and ambiguous.

Congress mandated inspector general audits in 2010 after reports of misplaced remains. Several reports in the past year or so have cited improvements under the cemetery's new director, Kathryn Condon, but Thursday's report may be the most effusive in its praise.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has held oversight hearings on the issue, said she is pleased by the turnaround.

"Arlington National Cemetery is now making headlines for exactly the right reason — because of its singular place as a national monument of solemn respect for our military members and their families," she said. "Despite its recent turnaround, I'm absolutely committed to staying vigilant and ensuring that this successful story continues."

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has pushed Arlington to digitize its records and raised questions in December about the progress it had made, said Thursday that "Condon and her team deserve a lot of credit for implementing reforms to fix the problems at Arlington and begin restoring our trust."

Cemetery officials declined comment Thursday on the report, referring questions to the Army.

In a letter to McCaskill, Army Secretary John McHugh said the report "details wholesale improvements across cemetery operations."

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