Arlington National Cemetery:

Authority, Process, and Criteria for Burial Waivers

T-HEHS-98-81: Published: Jan 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the waiver process for burials in Arlington National Cemetery, focusing on: (1) the trends in waiver decisions; (2) whether legal authority exists to grant waivers; (3) the process used in making waiver decisions; and (4) the criteria applied in the decisionmaking.

GAO noted that: (1) since 1967, 196 waivers have been granted for burial at Arlington cemetery, and at least 144 documented requests have been denied; (2) of the granted waivers, about 63 percent involved burial of individuals in the same grave site as someone already interred, or expected to be interred; (3) although the Secretary of the Army has no explicit statutory or regulatory authority to grant waivers, it is legal for the Secretary to do so, in part, because of the general legal authority of the Secretary for administering Arlington; (4) GAO found that most waiver requests have been handled through an internal Army review process involving officials responsible for the administration of Arlington; (5) however, this process is not followed in all cases; (6) for example, in the case of presidential waiver decisions, the Army process is generally bypassed; (7) in addition, this process is not widely known or understood, which in some cases has appeared to provide advantages to those who were persistent enough to pursue a waiver request or who were able to obtain the assistance of high-level government officials; and (8) while those responsible for making waiver decisions appear to apply some generally understood criteria, these criteria, which are not formally established, are not always consistently applied or clearly documented.

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