Arlington National Cemetery:

Management Improvements Made, but a Strategy Is Needed to Address Remaining Challenges

GAO-12-105: Published: Dec 15, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2011.

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What GAO Found

The Army has taken positive steps to address management deficiencies at Arlington and has implemented improvements across a range of areas. However, GAO identified opportunities to build upon these improvements. Specifically, GAO found that ANCP: (1) has invested in information-technology improvements and has begun projects to further enhance capabilities, but is not yet basing its investments on an enterprise architecture, or modernization blueprint, that could help ensure the planned investments will meet the organization’s needs; (2) has taken steps to improve its workforce planning, but its plans were based on an incomplete understanding of ANCP’s requirements and outdated business processes that have since been revised, with the result that ANCP lacks an updated and validated workforce structure; (3) is in the initial stages of developing a program for assessing and improving cemetery operations, but until ANCP completes this program, it may be limited in its ability to evaluate and improve aspects of cemetery performance; and (4) has improved its coordination with other Army organizations, but is experiencing challenges coordinating with some operational partners due in part to a lack of written agreements. Finally, because ANCP officials have focused on addressing the immediate crisis at Arlington, they have not yet developed a strategic plan aimed at prioritizing and achieving long-term goals. Without a strategic plan, ANCP’s actions may not be well coordinated and its resources may be used ineffectively.

ANCP has a process to verify burial locations when requested to do so by a family. GAO collected records for 1,194 cases that ANCP concluded did not have burial discrepancies and drew a generalizable sample of 60 cases to evaluate ANCP’s implementation of its burial verification process. GAO’s review found that ANCP implemented this process, and did not find documentation discrepancies pertaining to burial locations. GAO found documentation discrepancies for two cases pertaining to decedents’ personal information and could not determine from the records how these discrepancies were addressed. In cases where a burial error occurred, ANCP’s Executive Director or Chief of Staff contacted the affected families. ANCP’s Executive Director—in consultation with cemetery officials and affected families—made decisions on a case-by-case basis about the assistance provided to each family. Confirmed errors were fixed by the cemetery based on the next-of-kin’s wishes. ANCP has not developed written guidance that identifies the factors ANCP’s Executive Director considers when assisting families in these instances. Written guidance can improve families’ and policymakers’ visibility into ANCP’s decision making in these circumstances.

A transfer of jurisdiction for the Army’s two national cemeteries to VA is feasible, but GAO identified several factors that may affect the advisability of making this change, such as potential costs and benefits, transition challenges, and the effect on Arlington’s unique characteristics. In addition, given the improvements the Army has made and continues to make at Arlington, it may be premature to transfer jurisdiction for these cemeteries to VA if other changes can achieve similar results or improve operations. For example, GAO identified opportunities where enhanced collaboration between the Army and VA may improve operations with less disruption. However, the Army and VA have not established a formal mechanism for collaborating and therefore could miss opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cemetery operations.

Why GAO Did This Study
Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington) contains the remains of more than 330,000 military service members, family members, and others. In June 2010, the Army Inspector General identified problems at the cemetery, including deficiencies in management, burial errors, and a failure to notify next of kin of errors. In response, the Secretary of the Army assigned new leadership for the cemetery and issued guidance to address deficiencies. The Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), is responsible for overseeing operations at Arlington. In response to Public Law 111-339, GAO assessed (1) the Army’s efforts to address identified management deficiencies, (2) the Army’s process for providing information and assistance to families regarding efforts to detect and correct burial errors, and (3) factors affecting the feasibility and advisability of transferring jurisdiction for the Army’s national cemeteries to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). GAO analyzed Army guidance, records, plans, and other documentation and interviewed knowledgeable Army and VA officials, among other steps.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has taken actions to ensure that it is making sound investments in Arlington National Cemetery's (Arlington) information technology systems, as we recommended. In May 2012, Arlington completed its enterprise architecture which included a gap analysis and the development of a transition plan. This transition plan identifies the cemetery's transition initiatives (including automation of headstone ordering and the development of mobile applications), general timeframes for beginning work, and provides recommendations for further actions that the cemetery should take pertaining to IT systems and other areas requiring development and enhancement.

    Recommendation: To ensure sound investments in Arlington's information technology, we recommend that the Secretary of the Army direct the Executive Director, Army National cemeteries Program (ANCP), to complete and implement ANCP's planned enterprise architecture and reassess ongoing and planned information-technology investments' alignment with future operational needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has taken actions to develop a validated workforce structure for Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington), as we recommended. As of April 2013, the Army validated a revised table of distribution of allowances for Arlington National Cemetery that included an additional 23 personnel requirements and bringing the total number of positions authorized for the cemetery to 214.

    Recommendation: To improve workforce planning and ensure that Arlington has the right workforce structure required to perform its mission, the Secretary of the Army should require the U.S. Army Manpower Analysis Agency and the U.S. Army Force Management Support Agency, in conjunction with the Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), to conduct an updated assessment of the program's workforce needs that accounts for current and planned changes to Arlington's business processes and staffing requirements, and to document the results of this updated assessment in a revised table of distribution and allowances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2014, the Army had not yet fully implemented this recommendation. According to Army officials, the Army has modified its plans for developing Arlington Cemetery's Organization Inspection Program. Rather than creating a stand-alone program, the cemetery is in the process of linking the program's control measures to its campaign plan to better ensure that the organizations regularly assesses and measures progress against its mission and vision. Cemetery officials said that they intend to complete the first inspection in September 2014 as a combined effort of the Army National Military Cemetery and Arlington National Cemetery teams. Given the absence of a documented assessment program that entails a self-assessment of operations and external assessments by cemetery subject-matter experts, the Army has not yet acted to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To provide for periodic evaluations of Arlington's performance, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), to develop and implement a program for assessing and improving cemetery operations. This program, at a minimum, should include an ability to complete a self-assessment of operations, and external assessments by cemetery subject-matter experts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: As of May 2014, the Army had not yet fully implemented this recommendation. In May 2012 the Army signed an Intra-service Support Agreement with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall that codifies the installation support relationship with regard to the Department of Public Works support. Additionally, in June 2012 the Executive Director Army National cemeteries Program signed a memorandum of agreement with the Commander Joint Base Myer- Henderson Hall outlining the roles and responsibilities of these two organizations as they pertain to the provision of emergency services at Arlington National Cemetery. These two documents combined define roles and responsibilities as they relate to emergency services and public works, codifies the working relationships between these organizations, and clearly specifies responsibilities for the provision of resources and funding. In April 2013 the Army and the Military District of Washington signed a similar agreement that clearly establishes roles, responsibilities, and the resources that each organization will commit to Arlington National Cemetery. In May 2014, the Army said that it no longer intends to sign formal memorandum of agreement with the military service honor guards because coordination between Arlington Cemetery and honor guards varies based on operations and the Army determined it would be better served by conducting monthly inter-service coordination meetings. In addition, the Army intends to codify these relationships when it publishes several foundational documents including an update to the Code of Federal Regulations, an updated general order, and updated versions of Army regulation 290-5 and Pamphlet 290-5). The Army has made significant progress addressing this recommendation, and the actions described above may meet the intent of our recommendation should they be fully implemented.

    Recommendation: To enhance coordination with key operational partners, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), in conjunction with the Military District of Washington, the military service honor guards, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, to develop a memorandum of understanding with each organization that clearly defines roles and responsibilities, institutionalizes effective working relationships, and seeks to efficiently leverage resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army National Military Cemeteries (ANMC) has taken actions to improve its ability to identify, prioritize, and achieve long-term goals by developing a strategic plan, as we recommended. ANMC hired a strategic planner in October 2011 and completed its first strategic plan--also known as a campaign plan--in January 2012. This plan is an annual document that codifies the near- to long-term command, planning, and oversight of the ANMC. This plan includes a list of objectives and goals, actions and milestones, and metrics. In addition, a senior Army National Military Cemetery Official said that resource planning is coordinated with implementation of the campaign plan in the near-, mid-, and long-term. Long-term and medium-term planning is completed through a combination of the Program Objective Memorandum process, a projection of the facilities and infrastructure maintenance requirements over a 10-year span, and the president's annual budget submission. In the near-term, the Executive Director reviews proposed requirements to ensure that they are in line with the Campaign Plan. As a result of developing the strategic plan and linking it with established programming and budgeting processes, the Army has addressed the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To provide a strategic focus at the Army's national cemeteries, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), to develop a strategic plan that prioritizes goals; identifies actions, milestones, and resource requirements for achieving those goals; and establishes performance measures to track and evaluate progress and outcomes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Army has taken no steps to address this recommendation since May 2013 and Army officials told us that they do not intend to act on this recommendation further. At that time, Army officials said that the Army National Cemeteries Program published protocols for agency-identified or family member-initiated gravesite inquiries in February 2012. This memorandum outlines the quality assurance protocols that the Army will use at Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery to verify the existence of a burial discrepancy. However, this document does not meet the full intent of our recommendation in that it does not identify pertinent DOD and Army regulations and guidance nor does it identify the types of assistance that can be provided to families. Until the Cemetery modifies its guidance accordingly, it will not have addressed our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve visibility into Arlington's decision making when interacting with families affected by burial errors, the Secretary of the Army should direct the Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP), to develop written guidance that addresses the factors the Executive Director will consider when determining the types of assistance that will be provided to families in these circumstances.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has taken actions to improve its collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as we recommended. In March 2013, the Army and VA signed a charter for a Joint Working Group that provides an official forum for senior leaders at the Army National Military Cemeteries and VA's National Cemetery Administration to meet and collectively identify potential improvements, share lessons learned, avoid potential duplication, and develop solutions to common problems. The establishment of this group addresses our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To expand collaboration between the Army and Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should develop and implement a joint working group or other such mechanism as the agencies deem appropriate that will enable the Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP) and VA's National Cemetery Administration to collectively identify potential improvements, share lessons learned, avoid potential duplication, and develop solutions to common problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken actions to improve its collaboration with the Army with regards to their national cemeteries, as we recommended. In March 2013, the VA and the Army signed a charter for a Joint Working Group that provides an official forum for senior leaders at VA's National Cemetery Administration and the Army National Military Cemeteries to meet and collectively identify potential improvements, share lessons learned, avoid potential duplication, and develop solutions to common problems. The establishment of this group addresses our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To expand collaboration between the Army and Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemeteries, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should develop and implement a joint working group or other such mechanism as the agencies deem appropriate that will enable the Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP) and VA's National Cemetery Administration to collectively identify potential improvements, share lessons learned, avoid potential duplication, and develop solutions to common problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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