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GAO Issues Report on Arlington National Cemetery

Posted: January 28, 2012

Last week the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a status report on changes implemented at Arlington National Cemetery in the wake of the June 2010 report by the Army Inspector General (AIG) that identified problems at the cemetery, including deficiencies in contracting and management, burial errors, and a failure to notify next of kin.

The GAO assessed several areas, including: actions taken to improve contract management and oversight; the Army's efforts to address identified management deficiencies and provide information and assistance to families regarding efforts to detect and correct burial errors; and factors affecting the feasibility and advisability of transferring jurisdiction for the Army's national cemeteries to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The GAO report found that the Army has taken a number of steps to provide for more effective management and oversight of contracts, establishing new support relationships, formalizing policies and procedures, and increasing the use of dedicated contracting staff to manage and improve its acquisition processes. However, GAO found that Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP) does not maintain complete data on its contracts, responsibilities for contracting support are not yet fully defined, and dedicated contract staffing arrangements still need to be determined. GAO made three recommendations to continue improvements in contract management.

The GAO noted that the Army has taken positive steps and implemented improvements to address other management deficiencies and to provide information and assistance to families. It has implemented improvements across a broad range of areas at Arlington, including developing procedures for ensuring accountability over remains and improving its capability to respond to the public and to families' inquiries. Nevertheless, the Army has remaining management challenges in several areas: managing information technology investments, updating workforce plans, developing an organizational assessment program, coordinating with key partners, developing a strategic plan, and developing guidance for providing assistance to families. GAO made six recommendations to help address these areas.

The GAO report noted that a transfer of jurisdiction for the Army's two national cemeteries to VA is feasible based on historical precedent for the national cemeteries and examples of other reorganization efforts in the federal government. However, several factors may affect the advisability of making such a change, including the potential costs and benefits, potential transition challenges, and the potential effect on Arlington's unique characteristics. In addition, given that the Army has taken steps to address deficiencies at Arlington and has improved its management, the GAO report noted that it may be premature to move forward with a change in jurisdiction, particularly if other options for improvement exist that entail less disruption.

The GAO report identified opportunities for enhancing collaboration between the Army and VA that could leverage their strengths and potentially lead to improvements at all national cemeteries. GAO recommended that the Army and VA develop a mechanism to formalize collaboration between these organizations.

The full report is available on the GAO website.