Witness Testimony of Patrick K. Hallinan, Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery, Department of the Army, U.S. Department of Defense
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about Arlington National Cemetery. I was appointed as the Superintendent of Arlington on October 10, 2010, and served as the Acting Superintendent since June 10, 2010.
I was the Director of the Office of Field Programs, National Cemetery Administration for the VA since Oct. 20, 2008, and was responsible for developing and implementing National Cemetery policy, procedures, and guidance related to national cemetery operations. I had oversight responsibilities for five Memorial Service Network offices, 131 national cemeteries, 3.1 million gravesites and 19,000 acres..
I began my career in federal service, working as a temporary caretaker for the National Cemetery Administration when I was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. I have spent my entire federal career in cemetery operations and see being the Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery as the highpoint of my 37-year career.
First and foremost, Arlington National Cemetery is an active cemetery conducting approximately 27 funerals per day. We consider it part of our sacred trust to ensure that each funeral is executed with the utmost dignity and respect. Every veteran's, and eligible dependent's, funeral receives our full attention to detail. Daily operations are critical to maintaining one of the unique hallmarks of Arlington National Cemetery, multiple simultaneous private grave side interments with full honors. Neither the importance nor complexity of this hallmark can be overstated.
To establish accountability while maintaining this hallmark, standards were developed throughout the operation where none existed. The leadership team is training the workforce to implement these standard operating procedures. We are holding supervisors and leaders responsible and accountable for meeting our established standards. All supervisors are responsible for quality control in the cemetery. My staff and I spend at least 60% of every day in the cemetery, regardless of weather conditions, observing daily operations and ensuring expected standards are being met.
New standards for chain of custody have been implemented to maintain positive identification of casketed or cremated remains from the time they arrive at the cemetery until they are secured in their final resting place. For casketed remains a system of six checks are made by the cemetery representative to ensure positive identification: cemetery representative validated daily interment schedule with family; a non-biodegradable tag is placed on the casket containing the name of the deceased, date of death, date of interment, section and grave number and checked with the section and grave number painted on the concrete lid of the grave liner; section and grave number are painted on inside the grave liner; temporary grave marker contains name, dates, section and grave number; and headstone (if applicable).
A "dig slip" is now the standard for excavation of a grave being opened for a second interment. This standard assists in preventing the unintentional removal of interred cremated remains during the excavation of a grave. The dig slip is issued to the equipment operator and must be verified by the equipment operator before opening the grave. Similarly, niche covers in the columbarium are not removed for the second interment until the cemetery representative is present. This standard prevents cremated remains from being left unattended in an open niche prior to a service. All cremated remains received at the cemetery are tagged with a non-biodegradable tag and maintained in a locked area until required for the funeral service. A concrete government grave liner made specifically for urns is now used for gravesites where cremated remains are interred. This procedure effectively eliminates the improper or unintentional disassociation of cremated remains from their assigned gravesite.
Supervisors and work leaders are being trained regularly by the cemetery leadership on standards for the correct layout of burial sections according to burial maps, accurate assignment of grave sites, and correct procedures for closing graves. The Army has a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs leveraging training at the National Cemetery System, Veterans Administration training site in St. Louis. Contracting officer representatives throughout the cemetery workforce are holding contractors working in the cemetery to the standards of the contracts. Contracts have quality assurance plans and contractors are being monitored and held accountable to fulfill all contractual obligations and for any damage sustained to government property.
Standards are in place to ensure that all sections of the cemetery are tamped correctly to minimize graves and headstones from sinking. A sifter was procured to ensure fill soil for closing of graves is now sifted prior to use to improve effectiveness of the tamping process when closing a gravesite. Additionally, all first interment sections are raked level, clear of any excess rocks, to present a neat and cared for appearance. As soon as possible (seasonal restrictions apply) a stand of turf is created either by adding a layer of topsoil, seeding, and fertilizing or installing sod. We are now using hand operated gas tampers in second interment sections to close graves correctly. Attachments for tractors have been added to rake large first interment areas substantially improving the overall appearance of the cemetery. Government markers (headstones) are being installed and checked against the newly established standard in the cemetery. Government markers are installed with 24"-26" of stone visible above the ground. Headstones are installed using the permanent monumentation in the sections and checked with a level to ensure that they are aligned vertically and horizontally.
Daily operations have been enhanced through the establishment, training and enforcement of standards, by optimizing procedures, and by procuring the right equipment for each task. This ensures full accountability of all remains that are interred or inurned and higher quality of interment services and grounds keeping. The result is full confidence that individuals are laid to rest in the correct gravesite or niche and an significant increase in the appearance of the cemetery.
The cemetery averages 47 new requests for burial each day. We average 27 interments per day. To address this issue, Arlington National Cemetery initiated Saturday interment operations on May 14, 2011. These are placement only services, where no honors have been requested and allow some of the additional demand to be met. In addition, we are working to increase the daily number of services to average 30 interments.
Arlington National Cemetery is hallowed ground, consecrated by the American Heroes buried here. As a veteran, and father of a Marine, I am truly honored to be the Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. I am here to move forward to correct the mistakes of the past and restore the faith of the American public in the operations at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I will gladly respond to any questions the Subcommittee may have.