McCaskill: Arlington Cemetery has improved since scandal

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 4, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Friday that Arlington National Cemetery had made improvements since a scandal last year over improperly marked graves and faulty recordkeeping.

"There's no question they made some major changes," she said in an interview, "from heartbreakingly incompetent management to people who are utilizing the technology of the Army to bring them into the 21st century."

McCaskill toured the cemetery and received a briefing from Army officials about a report to Congress on the changes that's due next month. Along with four other senators, she co-authored a law last year that holds the secretary of the Army accountable to Congress for Arlington improvements.

Cemetery officials declined to comment Friday, but they told Congress last month that they'd introduced new standards, new equipment and training to make sure the new systems operate as intended.

McCaskill said the recordkeeping was now paperless. She said the Army employed spatial photography and subterranean imaging to locate burial sites and had installed a system of multiple checks to make sure that graves were identified properly. Eventually, she said, families will be able to view the burial sites of their loved ones on the Web.

The premier resting place for the nation's military, as well as presidents and other prominent Americans, Arlington became a source of profound embarrassment last year. An Army inspector general's report found a variety of problems, from an antiquated and slipshod system of keeping records to more than 200 graves that had been marked improperly.

Officials couldn't say for certain who was buried where in some cases, according to the report, and some grave sites without headstones were thought to be occupied. It also said burial urns that contained unidentified remains had been found in a cemetery landfill five years earlier.

In addition, a Senate report last summer said the cemetery had spent millions of dollars and 10 years to digitize its recordkeeping system yet still used index cards to locate graves.

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