The American Legion is strongly urging Congress to turn over management of troubled Arlington National Cemetery to the National Cemeteries Administration (NCA), a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Arlington, along with the cemetery at the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington, currently is administered by the U.S. Army.
The Legion made its appeal in written testimony submitted to a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing on June 23, in which members of Congress were updated on efforts to correct problems caused by mismanagement at the cemetery.
Legion testimony recalled the Arlington scandal, first reported on by Washington-based investigative reporter Mark Benjamin in 2009. "America learned of mislabeled remains, and bodies buried in the wrong locations," the Legion said, "...perhaps in 6,000 locations or more. Cemetery staff, when questioned by incoming management regarding standard procedure manuals for burials and plot alignment, admitted that no such written records existed, and work had been handed down by word of mouth. Electronic records did not exist (and) information was stored on index cards as if the nation's most prominent military cemetery was a 1950's muffler shop."
A year ago, the Obama administration appointed new management at the Army's two cemeteries, as Kathryn Condon became executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program. According to its testimony, the Legion has been pleased with her tenure. "Director Condon and her team have been tireless and honest, sometimes brutally so, in the pursuit of righting this sinking ship. The American Legion applauds Director Condon for her forthright efforts to correct these errors."
Despite this, the Legion is urging Congress to remove Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home cemetery from the Army's purview and place them in the hands of the NCA.
"The DoD has one critical mission: to prepare for and execute the war fighting necessary for this nation's defense," the Legion said. "Sidelining resources of money and staff to non-war fighting tasks degrades efficiency within DoD. NCA is already managing 131 cemeteries and doing it well."
The Legion believes the Army still has a vital role to play at Arlington. "Nobody questions the performance of the Army in the ceremonial tasks and duties they have always performed, and performed with distinction," the testimony read. "The American Legion believes the responsibilities of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as ‘The Old Guard', which include conducting military ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, manning the 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and being the provider of military funeral escorts at Arlington, should never change as a result of any reorganization associated with Arlington National Cemetery."