Arlington National Cemetery:

Additional Information on Burial Waiver Decisions

HEHS-98-104R: Published: Mar 4, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 1998.

Additional Materials:


Stephen P. Backhus
(202) 512-7111


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided supplemental information to its testimony on waivers granted for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, focusing on: (1) the job performance of the current Arlington Superintendent; (2) record-keeping practices at the Arlington Cemetery prior to 1991; (3) a job performance summary of the Arlington Superintendent from 1975 through 1990; (4) whether political contributions were a factor in granting burial waivers; and (5) the degree of difficulty in verifying Ambassador Larry Lawrence's record of service in the Merchant Marine within the 24-48 hour period in which a decision had to be made on a burial waiver.

GAO noted that: (1) given the absence of clear, formal criteria for making waiver decisions, it is difficult to characterize the decisionmaking attitude of the various officials involved in making Arlington National Cemetery burial waiver decisions or recommendations; (2) GAO's work has shown that the current Superintendent was less wiling to approve waiver requests than other Army decision-makers; (3) Army waiver decision records were often incomplete, particularly for cases decided during the period from 1967-1990; (4) despite these limitations, GAO was able to obtain some information on earlier waiver decisions, in part, from the efforts of the current Superintendent; (5) the current Superintendent has adopted the policy of creating a waiver file for each waiver decision; (6) to reduce the risk of incomplete recordkeeping in the future, the Army may want to consider imposing formal recordkeeping requirements for waiver decisions that include all relevant background material, decision papers, and explanatory documents from all offices or individuals involved; (7) although the previous Superintendent did have a role in recommending approval or denial of burial waiver requests beginning with the Reagan Administration, he did not generally prepare a memorandum documenting his recommendation to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA-CW); (8) instead, for most of the waiver requests received by the Army during the previous Superintendent's tenure, he and the military assistant to the ASA-CW would jointly decide whether to recommend approval or denial of a request; (9) letters from requesters and the Cemetery's replies to them were kept in a correspondence file along with documents about all types of burial requests and were destroyed after three to five years; (10) GAO's review of Army waiver files did not suggest that political contributions played a part in waiver decisions; (11) however, the absence of evidence in these files alone does not permit GAO to conclude whether or not political contributions were a factor; and (12) based on the limited objectives of GAO's work, the information it obtained does not shed light on how difficult or easy it would have been for the Superintendent to verify Ambassador Larry Lawrence's record of service in the Merchant Marine within a 24-to-48-hour period in which a decision had to be made on a waiver.

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