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Arlington Cemetery: 19th-century technology in a 21st-century world

What year is it?

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and the other members of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee were again upset on July 29 by the problems of recordkeeping at the Arlington National Cemetery. And the senators were as confused as ever by the answers former cemetery officials offered at a hearing.

“Let me get this straight. It’s 2010,” Brown said, briefly checking the date on his black wrist watch. It was, in fact, 2010, and the cemetery was still using 3X5 cards—an alphabetical and numerical set—to keep up with who was buried where.

For the sake of the former cemetery officials, Brown picked up a laptop computer.

“This is an amazing piece of technology, right here,” he said, showing John Metzler, former cemetery superintendent, what was available to him for recordkeeping in today’s era.

“We’ve got cell phones, iPhones, we’ve got this and that. And you guys are still dealing in cards. I find that just…I just can’t get my head around that,” Brown said, raising his usually even tone of voice.

A news report and a subsequent investigation by the Army Inspector General found numerous problems with records at the cemetery where American soldiers are buried and have been buried for more than 100 years.

The investigation found more than 200 cases of improperly buried veterans and wrongly marked gravesites. And it’s largely the result of antiquated, paper-based recordkeeping stemming from mishandled information technology contracts.

“We’re using 3X5 cards for the people who are the national heroes of this country,” Brown said. “Here it is 2010. We’ve got all this technology, and we’re still dealing in 3X5 cards. It’s a joke.”

Posted by Matthew Weigelt on Jul 30, 2010 at 12:11 PM


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