WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on Thursday questioned former Arlington National Cemetery officials about their roles in the mismanagement of the national military cemetery, which was the focus of a recent Army Inspector General's probe.
The Army IG report outlined a number of serious operational and contracting deficiencies at Arlington National Cemetery. These included the discovery of unmarked graves, grave sites that were misidentified on cemetery maps, and at least four burial urns that had been unearthed and their contents discarded.
"We expect the utmost honor and dignity to be given to those buried at Arlington," Senator Collins said during today's hearing of the committee's Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "Tragically, we now know that this most basic of expectations was neglected. Gross mismanagement of these sanctified grounds has tarnished a sacred trust and shaken many military families.
"The cemetery had not been inspected or audited for more than a decade - an unbelievable lapse of oversight. The Army has admitted that it lacked a single point of responsibility and accountability for the operations and oversight of the Cemetery. That admission is the first step, but the families, fellow service members, and friends of our fallen heroes must have their trust restored. Right now, that bond is broken."
Senator Collins also noted that efforts to upgrade the cemetery mapping operation from a paper system to a digital system had failed, despite more than 35 IT contracts totaling more than $5.5 million.
"There are many reasons for this tremendous waste of taxpayer funds, but a primary culprit in derailing the automation effort can be traced to a lack of effective contract oversight. Through this hearing, it is our intent not only to determine the causes of these disturbing and painful lapses at Arlington, but also to identify solutions and establish a timetable for urgent action. We must take aggressive steps to remove the tarnish from this national landmark and to renew the promises made to our military families and to the American people."