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Witness Testimony of Kathryn A. Condon, Executive Director, Army National Cemeteries Program, Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on progress at Arlington National Cemetery.

INTRODUCTION

Arlington National Cemetery is both the most hallowed burial ground of our Nation's fallen and one of the most visited tourist sites in the Washington, DC, area. A fully operational national cemetery since May 1864, Arlington National Cemetery presently conducts an average of 27 funerals each workday-final farewells to fallen heroes from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to veterans of World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam and the Cold War and their family members. While maintaining the honor, dignity and privacy of each graveside service, Arlington National Cemetery hosts approximately 4 million guests annually. This duality of purpose serves to bring the national shrine of Arlington National Cemetery, and the sacrifices of those buried there, closer to the American people.

As the agency responsible for these two cemeteries, the Army is committed to rendering public honor and recognition through dignified burial services for members of the Armed Services and other qualified deceased persons where they may be interred or inurned in a setting of peace, reverence and natural beauty.  On behalf of the cemeteries and the Department of the Army, I would like to express our appreciation for the support that Congress has provided over the years.

LEADERSHIP

I believe that the update that the subcommittee requested can be most directly addressed by explaining how we have executed, and continue to execute, our leadership responsibilities.  Army Field Manual 6-22, Leadership, defines leadership as “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.”

Our statement explains how we have provided purpose and direction by establishing a clear and comprehensive vision and supporting mission statement.  It continues by explaining how we have implemented management changes to improve the organization and increase the quality and efficiency.   The impact of these changes is best described by reviewing the standards that have been established and their results in the areas of daily operations, customer service, records management, and fiscal responsibility.  This leads us to a discussion of sustaining the cemetery for the future to be able to achieve the vision.  In the end, I am confident that you will see the progress that has been made and the foundations for reestablishing the Nation’s confidence in Arlington National Cemetery.

VISION AND MISSION

We have provided purpose and direction by establish a clear and comprehensive vision for Arlington National Cemetery that defines the desired future state:

America's premier military cemetery

  • A national shrine
  • A living history of freedom
  • Where dignity and honor rest in solemn repose.

While the vision provides the long range goal that the organization is striving for, the mission is essential to provide clarity for daily operations.  The mission is:

On behalf of the American people, lay to rest those who have served our nation with dignity and honor, treating their families with respect and compassion, and connecting guests to the rich tapestry of the cemetery’s living history, while maintaining these hallowed grounds befitting the sacrifice of all those who rest here in quiet repose.

MANAGEMENT CHANGES

To successfully accomplish the mission and put Arlington National Cemetery on the path to achieve the vision, there have been several management changes. 

These changes started immediately at the top by clearly delineating roles, responsibilities and relationships.  As Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program I am a direct report to the Secretary of the Army, and is responsible to effectively and efficiently develop, operate, manage and administer both Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemeteries.  The Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery is my direct report, responsible to effectively and efficiently manage and execute daily operations.

Management functions have been consolidated within the Army National Cemeteries Program.  The staff under my position as Executive Director has functional expertise in strategic management and communications, information management, and resource management. I am supported by ceremonial units from the Armed Services, a detailed staff of chaplains, staff support from Headquarters, Department of the Army, and the Arlington Ladies who represent the Chief’s and Commandant’s of each Armed Service at funerals.  The result is clearly defined roles, responsibilities and relationships. 

My staff performs both an enabling function and an oversight role for the Superintendent’s execution of daily operations.  The intent is to enhance operations by removing administrative burdens from those responsible for execution, while having those administrative functions performed by subject matter experts and clearly segregating duties to ensure proper accountability and oversight.

We have refocused the execution elements of the workforce by establishing leadership positions and accountability where none existed before.  There are now team leader positions and job assignments to better manage and execute daily operations.  The Superintendent’s statement will focus on the improvements to daily operations.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Arlington National Cemetery is truly about the living.  It provides a means for the living to honor our fallen veterans and their families.  It provides a unique lens on the history of freedom.  But, first and foremost, Arlington National Cemetery, on behalf of the American people, lays to rest those who have served our nation with dignity and honor, treating their families with respect and compassion.  Hence, customer service is a critical priority.

When I arrived at Arlington National Cemetery the standard process for scheduling services or getting questions answered was to either call one of two toll numbers.  If there was not someone immediately available to answer your call, you would be put on hold.  That hold would last until one three things happened: the caller got tired of waiting, the wait hit the limit of just under an hour and the caller was transferred to a voice mailbox that was not set up, or a cemetery representative picked up the line.  We cannot tell you how many calls went unanswered because of this system or how many people decided to go elsewhere.  This undoubtedly led to frustration and also to frequent users finding ways to get priority. 

To be responsive to each and every caller and to establish a uniform standard for scheduling we streamlined public interaction and telephonic communications by transitioning initial call screening to the Information Technology Agency's Consolidated Customer Service Center (CCSC) on December 13, 2010.  The customized interactive voice response tree allows us to receive and track incoming calls.  This has also forced us to document detailed processes and work instructions that reside in a searchable knowledge management database.  The call center leverages CCSC’s existing case management application customized for Arlington National Cemetery to document and track all customer interactions.  We have trained a dedicated team of agents to answer, triage, resolve when possible, and document all calls.  To date the call center has handled more than 23,432 calls, averaging 235 calls per weekday with 47 of those to schedule an interment.

Accessibility and preparedness for customers is also a priority.  While the buildings were constructed prior to the American’s with Disabilities Act, that is no excuse for a lack of accommodation.  We have installed a handicapped ramp between Visitors Center and Administration Building for family members arriving by Metro.  We have also constructed temporary ramps for placement curbside at interment services and include carpet for wheel chair access graveside.  Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been installed at locations throughout the cemetery and staff have been trained on their usage to ensure immediate response when necessary.

While we are pleased with the progress to date to improve customer service, improvements will continue.  We firmly believe in continuous process improvement and are working to establish feedback mechanisms to increase our understanding of customer concerns and needs.

RECORDS MANAGEMENT

To address identified information assurance deficiencies in the Department of the Army Inspector General report and based on the CIO/G-6 assessment, we commissioned the Army Data Center-Fairfield to transition the Interment Scheduling System to current hardware and software. The Army Data Center Fairfield completed this work and transitioned hosting of Arlington National Cemetery’s business application to the US Army Information Technology agency on November 23, 2010. This critical transition has ensured survivability of this mission critical application.  We are now leveraging the Pentagon data disaster recovery capability and improvements to the Interment Scheduling System to allow scheduling to be transparent to the Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of the Army, and all service force providers.  The Army Data Center-Fairfield’s continued support of the Interment Scheduling System and enhancements will enable a transition of the interment services branch to a fully digital organization.

The activities of Army Data Center-Fairfield provide a bridging solution to allow the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to collaborate on a new acquisition to replace the current version of VA’s Burial Operation Support System (BOSS).  The VA-BOSS system is at the end of its life cycle and VA is planning the process for gathering requirements for a new acquisition.  Army acquisition professionals have been tasked to oversee the programmatic delivery of a new system, at which time milestone decision points will be determined according to Department of Defense and Army acquisition standard operating procedures.

One of the biggest concerns upon arrival was the paper records and the lack of any backup of this information.  We have been able to recover images from efforts in 2005 to scan the records.  These images have been integrated by the Army Data Center-Fairfield with VA-BOSS records and Interment Scheduling System data from 2003 forward into a searchable database that provides both a digital tool and, more importantly, a backup for the vast majority of the authoritative records.  This database will be expanded and form the basis of the accounting effort mandated by the Secretary of the Army and Public Law 111-339.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

Arlington National Cemetery did not certify the FY 2010 year-end financial reports and schedules due to a lack of available accountability records.  To remedy this issue for FY 2011, we accelerated the implementation of the General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS) to 1 October 2010.  GFEBS will provide the accountability, to include the ability to conduct required audits, to allow Arlington National Cemetery to certify year-end financial reports from now on. 

Instrumental to fiscal responsibility was instituting disciplined processes, with oversight and direction, to enhance procurement operations.  Executive Director policies and appointments are now in place to ensure a qualified senior-level staff member conducts funds certification; only the Director of Resource Management and the Budget Officer are authorized to certify funds. Similarly, funds approval is limited to the Executive Director and Chief of Staff.  We developed and implemented a Gift Policy to ensure proper joint ethics accountability and approval for all gifts and proffers made to Arlington National Cemetery.  We initiated accountability of all Real Property and implemented a preventative maintenance and repair process to ensure care and maintenance. 

I lowered the threshold for legal review of contracts to $100,000.  Recurring service contracts were extended to allow for a thorough review for requirements determination prior to re-competing all contracts.  The current contract requirements have been consolidated in areas that allowed Arlington National Cemetery to gain efficiencies, streamline work efforts and limit the contractor footprint on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery at any given time.  The consolidated requirements went from 28 to 16.  Each of the new service contracts has a Quality Assurance Surveillance Plan and a Performance Requirements Summary as part of the contractual requirement.  These documents will assist our newly trained contracting officer representatives to hold contractors accountable for services. 

To ensure accountability for the past, I have asked the Army Audit Agency (AAA) to return at the end of this fiscal year to ensure that the policies, procedures, and practices that have been established are indeed working and sufficient.

SUSTAINING ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

Arlington National Cemetery includes 624 acres of rolling hills with 20 miles of roads and the necessary infrastructure to support interment services, ceremonies, and visitation.  Planned expansions include the 31 acres known as the Millennium Project and 42 acres that will come with the Base Realignment of the Navy Annex.

Under current estimates, Arlington National Cemetery expects to exhaust its availability for inurnments in niche spaces in Fiscal Year 2016. To preclude this from happening, we have accelerated investment in developing and constructing Columbarium Court 9 during this fiscal year. This investment will add approximately 20,300 niches to the inventory and with the follow on efforts in the Millennium Project, should allow Arlington National Cemetery to continue to offer inurnment services out to Fiscal Year 2037. We expect Columbarium Court 9 to be operational by November 2012.

Investment in the Millennium Project recommences in Fiscal Year 2012. When all five phases have been completed, this project will provide space for casketed remains, niches, and space for in-ground cremated remains. Continuation of this project is critical to extend the viable life of Arlington National Cemetery and will permit us to offer multiple services to be performed simultaneously across the expanse of the cemetery. 

Arlington National Cemetery now has a dedicated engineering staff and has recently completed a comprehensive assessment of the current status of all facilities and infrastructure. This draft Ten-Year Capital Investment Plan for Arlington National Cemetery is to assist top-level management to manage, plan, budget, and acquire capital assets that will best serve the mission effectively.   The draft is a living document that is updated regularly.  It is flexible so the decision makers can change the project implementation schedules.  The plan intends to highlight and address potential spikes (i.e., large, one-time increases in annual appropriations) that may have an impact on other necessary projects.  It also establishes a process for managing the portfolio of capital assets to achieve performance goals with the lowest life-cycle costs and to minimize risks. 

We are committed to maintaining Arlington’s grounds and infrastructure in accordance with the standards expected of a National Shrine while also maintaining the cemetery’s viability as an active cemetery for those who continue to serve our Nation.

CONCLUSION

I hope that the highlights of the actions taken and changes implemented demonstrate the progress that has been, and continues to be, made to restore the Nation’s confidence in Arlington National Cemetery.  I would like to thank the Subcommittee for taking a positive leadership role in the oversight of Arlington National Cemetery.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes our testimony.  We will be pleased to respond to questions from the Subcommittee.