Millions in contracts, no work completed at Arlington National Cemetery

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A top official at Arlington National Cemetery steered millions of dollars to a handful of contractors operating a series of different companies over the past several years. When the contractors would leave one company and start another, the official would hire them again, yet the work they were hired to do has never been completed. The firms have ostensibly worked since 2003 to computerize burial records at the cemetery, but to date, despite receiving as much as $5.6 million, they have produced almost nothing in return.

The small group of contractors, all favored by Deputy Superintendent Thurman Higginbotham, includes one currently facing more than a dozen counts of child sex offenses and a company that a cemetery information technology manager felt was so unqualified to handle sensitive private data that the manager resigned in disgust.

Since the contractors have failed to produce, the cemetery continues to rely on a flurry of paper records in an attempt to keep up with around 30 burials a day. Paper goes missing, current and former workers there say, resulting in burial fiascoes that occur with disturbing frequency.

For example, Salon reported this past summer on workers who went to bury a service member in an active part of the cemetery only to find unknown, unmarked remains already there even though paper records said the grave was unoccupied. The cemetery at first claimed such things do not occur. When Salon produced the grave card labeled "CASKET IN GRAVE REMAINS UNKNOWN," and photos of the unmarked grave, the cemetery admitted the error -- but insisted that is the only case.

In a 2008 report to Congress, the cemetery admitted to poor record-keeping across the cemetery, including Section 60, the final resting place of troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There are numerous examples of discrepancies that exist between burial maps, the physical location of headstones, and the burial records/grave cards," the report admits. Despite that admission and the claims of current and former employees, top cemetery officials insist the correct remains are always beneath the headstones above them.

The process of trying to address Arlington's record-keeping problems by computerizing the burial process has been under way for at least six years The cemetery's de facto boss, Higginbotham, has spearheaded the computerization efforts. The plan is to duplicate operations at other large cemeteries that already electronically handle burial records and next-of-kin data and track grave locations via satellite, making foul-ups far less likely...

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John D. Beatty - 9/30/2009

Yes, this is how we want to handle health care in the future...turn it over to the Fed and they'll take care of it....