Army reviews cemetery's IT systems, overhauls management

The Army restructured management and launched reviews into the number of its employees, IT capabilities and contracting operations, McHugh said.

Army Secretary John McHugh told a House committee today that officials have begun cleaning up disregarded gravesites and overhauling a mismanaged chain of command at Arlington National Cemetery. The problems there also include information technology systems.

“These sweeping changes, evaluations, studies and reviews will ensure that [Arlington National Cemetery] has competent leadership, proper resources, a clear line of authority and sufficient strategic-level oversight for both current and future operations,” McHugh testified before the House Armed Services Committee.

Among the management restructuring, several Army officials, including the service's chief information officer, have launched reviews into the number of the cemetery’s employees, its information technology capabilities and contracting operations, McHugh said.

Related story: Army cites improper contracting in Arlington Cemetery scandal

The Army also is working on a comprehensive evaluation of the facility's IT systems and information assurance processes to develop methods to resolve deficiencies, as well as to automate the cemetery’s operations and administration, he said.

“This will ensure that we have the right resources, personnel and capabilities to meet the cemetery’s growing mission,” he said.

An investigation by the Army’s inspector general found numerous problems in the management of the cemetery, where the nation's fallen service members and veterans have been buried since the Civil War. McHugh said the cemetery’s failed operations were covered by a façade of well-organized supervision.

Meanwhile, the cemetery, one of two run by the Army, had “no acquisition strategy, no integrated IT system and series of IT regulatory violations,” and the use of outside contractors has not been audited by outside officials for more than a decade, according to the Army's investigation report.

“Arlington Cemetery is our nation’s most hallowed ground. It is reserved as the final resting place of our heroic warriors. Management ineptitude and neglect have resulted in a web of errors,” Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said at  the hearing.

“I am angry, period. Anger is generally not a useful emotion, particularly here on Capitol Hill. However, in light of the recent revelations about the management of Arlington National Cemetery, I am just downright angry,” Skelton said.

This isn't the end for the Army on answering for the cemetery's mismanagement. The senator in charge of contracting oversight has opened an investigation into the procurement troubles, which has led to more than 200 cases of improperly buried veterans and wrongly marked gravesites.

Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Contracting Oversight Subcommittee and a member of the Armed Services Committee, wants unredacted copies of the documents and information from investigations and inspections into the scandal, according to a letter sent to June 25 to Army Secretary John McHugh.

McCaskill wrote that she wants the two men at the center of the problems available for questioning by her and her subcommittee’s staff. The cemetery’s deputy superintendent, Thurman Higginbotham, is identified in the report “as the government point of contact for monitoring all IT contract performance,” despite having no training as a contract officer. The report also alleges that Higginbotham may have authorized as much as $5.5 million in contracts to digitize cemetery’s records without results.

McCaskill wants to talk to Higginbotham and John Metzler, the cemetery’s superintendent, about the situation by July 9, according to her letter.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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