Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Ms. Kathryn Condon, Executive Director of Army and National Cemeteries Program, U.S. Department of Defense
Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member McNerney and distinguished Members, thank you for the opportunity to update you on our recent progress and highlight the investments needed for the future of the Army National Cemeteries Program (ANCP). Our efforts to date have allowed us to re-build the solid foundation that our veterans, Congress and the Nation can and should expect of its premier military cemeteries. These standards, controls and systems are also allowing us for the first time to understand the cost—in people, money and time—to maintain our operations and hallowed grounds in a professional, efficient and sustainable manner. This year’s request for additional resources is critical to fix a long ignored, antiquated and inefficient infrastructure, while also initiating burial expansion efforts before our veterans’ need outpaces prepared land. By practicing sound and transparent fiscal stewardship, we will also ensure our future priority needs, guided by our strategic plans, are captured and reviewed in future years within the standard Army budget process.
A REBUILT FOUNDATION
Since I last appeared before this sub-committee in October 2011, we have continued to make rapid and sustainable progress across the organization. Building upon the increased workforce, training and standards about which I previously discussed, I want to highlight five strategic efforts currently underway. First, our accountability efforts steadfastly continue. By this summer, we will produce Arlington’s first ever single, authoritative and digital database using repeatable processes that deliver predictable results. Second, our efforts to extend the burial life of the cemetery are advancing, including the Columbarium Court #9, Millennium Project and Navy Annex, all being captured in our ongoing Master Plan. Third, our Enterprise Architecture (EA) and Technology Acquisition Roadmap development is on track for an early summer completion, aligning our priorities and information technology (IT) investments with my vision. Fourth, we continue proactively engaging with partner organizations, including those with whom I am testifying today, leveraging and sharing each others’ capabilities and expertise. Finally, my unwavering commitment to fiscal stewardship and contracting excellence is enabling the ANCP for the first time to plan, program and budget for our requirements and then ensure we are using our resources responsibly and transparently for our immediate and long-term needs. These efforts are all components of our strategic Campaign Plan, our overall roadmap aligning and focusing our key efforts on the mission and my vision for the ANCP.
Creating an accountable data set of all gravesites serves at the base of all our efforts. The Gravesite Accountability Study Findings report, submitted to Congress in December in accordance with Public Law (PL) 111-339, outlined the repeatable processes we are using to produce Arlington’s first ever single, authoritative and digital database. By this summer, we will complete this effort to account for every service and family member resting in solemn repose from over 14 decades of burials. While no one is more eager than I to conclude this effort, our experienced team is painstakingly reviewing and validating records to confirm the disposition of the most historic burials at ANC. In the past ten weeks, we validated 22,435 additional gravesites, now totaling 218,183 or 84% of those identified at Arlington. We are working diligently to close the remaining 16% of the cases to bring our efforts to completion by this summer.
As we validate records, we have also created a solid foundation of standards and processes. We have an auditable chain of custody in place using standards that exceed that of the industry. Our workforce is using the best practices developed by Gravesite Accountability Task Force to ensure all future records remain aligned with our accountability standards. As I will discuss later, our use of geospatial application system (GIS) based technology is also reinforcing this accountability, allowing us soon to launch internal scheduling and operations systems operating from a single digital ANC map.
Extending the Burial Life of the Army National Cemeteries
With the land currently ready for burials, ANC will exhaust first inurnment space by the year 2016 and first interment space by 2024. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Norfolk District, and using no-year funds we recovered, we began construction on the ninth court of our Columbarium in November. This will extend our above ground burial space by eight years (to 2024), providing us a short window of time before we must begin construction on our two other expansion areas—the Millennium Project and the Navy Annex—to ensure there is no lapse in first burial operations. As we speak, the Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission is meeting for the second time, and one topic on which they are advising the Secretary of the Army is a recommended design for the Millennium Project expansion. The Navy Annex buildings are scheduled to be demolished soon, after which construction efforts can begin to allow ANC to extend first burials through the mid-2050s. We continue to work closely with Department of Defense (DoD) and Arlington County officials on these efforts.
We are incorporating all of our expansion efforts within our recently begun effort to update our Master Plan for ANC and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery (SAHNC). Last updated in 1998, our Master Plan will ensure we maximize the available land for burials, coordinate future construction plans and subsequent technology requirements, and retain the solemnity and historic presence of this national shrine. Our ANCP Master Planner is leading a concept design conference in two weeks, bringing together ANCP leaders with those from governmental and historic, fine arts and other public agencies. Aligned with our Campaign Plan, updating the Master Plan is another critical step forward for us.
Using Information Technology to Achieve our Vision
Harnessing state-of-the-art technology to conduct our burial operations, family outreach and other activities has remained central to our progress since I arrived 21 months ago. While still working through technology and security constraints, the ANCP is employing leading edge technology to operate the cemetery and communicate with our families. For instance, we will soon launch the ANCP’s internal geospatial application system (GIS). By producing a single electronic map of ANC, we can assign, manage and track gravesites with an authoritative digital map, a first for a cemetery. We will also be able to synchronize in real-time these burial operations with the ongoing ceremonies, visitor outreach, infrastructure repair, grounds upkeep and public safety efforts we have ongoing daily across the cemetery.
Additional advances in technology at Arlington allow funeral service representatives to certify burials electronically, confirming the services occurred as scheduled and recording needed details about the service. This record will be electronically available for decades and will allow the ANCP to be more accurate, accountable and efficient in conducting our operations. As our digital accountability database is completed and integrated with the GIS system, we will have the capability to better identify and understand trends, obstacles and other ways to more effectively and efficiently conduct our mission.
By this summer, we will also release our public-facing GIS applications. Once launched, these applications will allow users to locate gravesites or other important sites throughout the cemetery, generate front-and-back pictures of a marker, and receive directions to these sites. These applications will operate across common web browsers, mobile smart phones and on-site kiosks, allowing families, loved ones and the general public to access Arlington from web browsers on our state-of-the-art website.
We are also using technology to better support our military families preparing to lay to rest their loved ones. We are testing our online Headstone Formatting Tool, working with a small set of families to enable them to review and approve headstone markers remotely on a password-protected section of the ANCP website. Once testing is complete, this tool will allow the ANCP to better support our families in their time of need while also increasing the accuracy of this permanent tribute to our Nation’s military heroes and families.
Just as the Master Plan synchronizes and guides our expansion, we remain on track to complete our EA and Technology Acquisition Roadmap in May. Developed in accordance with the DoD’s Architecture Framework (DoDAF) model, once complete the EA will ensure our future IT investments are aligned, prioritized and programmed according to identified business needs.
Leveraging our Many Partners
We appreciate the deeply vested interests that so many organizations and individuals have in ensuring our efforts restore the trust and confidence in the Army National Cemeteries. The Secretary of the Army’s guidance and detailed recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Army Audit Agency (AAA) and the Department of the Army Inspector General (DAIG) have helped us focus our efforts, many serving as the basis for our Campaign Plan’s objectives, subtasks, metrics and milestones. Our expansion and Master Plan efforts previously mentioned could not be completed without our partners. We are also leveraging experts within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission to make progress more efficient, accurate and timely.
Arlington’s partnership with the VA continues to develop. For instance, we work cooperatively and share best practices with the VA National Cemetery Administration (NCA), including sending our personnel to the NCA National Training Center in St. Louis to receive training on various aspects of burial operations. Last week we hosted the VA Deputy Undersecretary for Field Programs and staff from VA’s Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Program Management Office (PMO) to demonstrate our GIS system and discuss our case management methodology as it applies to call centers. We are also now reviewing ways to incorporate lessons learned from this meeting, helping the ANCP continue improving our own processes and procedures.
The Army National Cemetery Advisory Commission concludes its second meeting today. As a Federal Advisory Commission, these distinguished members are reviewing some of the ANCP’s most important and sensitive topics to provide independent recommendations to the Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Defense. The Commission’s three subcommittees are examining how best to extend the burial life of ANC, address the cracks in the Tomb of the Unknowns, and capture and convey the Army National Cemeteries’ history, including the long-term implications of ANC Section 60 mementos and improving the experience for those who visit ANC. Seven of nine members have been appointed, and we are working diligently to fill the two vacant positions. The ANCP is honored to have the depth and breadth of experience and expertise of our distinguished commission members, each volunteering his or her time to support the Army National Cemeteries Program.
Responsible Stewards of our Nation’s Resources
Practicing sound fiscal stewardship builds upon the progress we have made across the organization, including gravesite accountability, infrastructure modernization, capital investments, IT transformation, training, contracting and business process transformation within our budget authority. We have identified, reconciled and recovered $26.8 million from prior year transactions that we were able to re-obligate against projects to resolve deficient areas. We continue to monitor our spending plan and reconcile our accounts to ensure we make the most efficient and effective use of our funding. We are also using our strategic Campaign Plan to prioritize our resources—including people, money and time—to ensure we are investing the funds provided in a deliberate, transparent, and prioritized way to our most critical projects in the near- and long-term.
In partnership with our Army acquisition stakeholders, we have made significant progress addressing GAO’s remaining contracting recommendations: establishing a centralized contracting database, the Army Contracting Command’s Virtual Contracting Enterprise (VCE) tool, about which I discussed last testimony; clearly defining support roles and responsibilities within support agreements; and determining the acquisition skills needed to support operations.
The Mission and Installation Contracting Command (MICC) completed the personnel hiring process for our on-site Contract Support Element (CSE). We will request GAO close this report recommendation, as this finalizes the analysis and determination of the acquisition skills required to support Arlington operations.
We are also beginning significant efforts to implementing a green procurement approach. Last month we provided the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment an overview of our energy, environmental and sustainment procurement initiatives, which include the implementation of the VCE Paperless Contract Files (VCE-PCF) and transition to Purchase Card Online System (PCOLS). Our sustainability initiatives extend across our activities, including use of electrical vehicles, solar power, recycled materials for sidewalks and native plants and perennials to maintain the long-term beauty and natural environment of our Cemeteries.
RESPONSIBLY USING AND FORECASTING OUR RESOURCE NEEDS
The fiscal year 2013 President’s Budget outlines the ANCP’s resources needed: $45.8 million funding requirements to support current operations; $103 million in investment for capital improvements projects to convert land to future burial sites; and $25 million for modernization projects to repair and maintain our aging infrastructure.
These are significant requests, especially in comparison to our previous budgets. In addition, these requests include our urgent need to support overdue infrastructure repair and modernization before more costly, publically reported, visibly detracting and potentially hazardous catastrophic failures occur. These funds will allow us to make needed repairs to our roads, HVAC systems, deteriorating and aging underground utilities and crumbling boundary wall around the cemetery. This will also allow us to begin in FY13 our Millennium Project expansion, long under study and to which we are completing an additional environmental and archeological assessment. Given the extensive construction required to complete a site appropriate for these grounds, delaying construction after FY13 will increase its costs and risk not completing this project before the ANCP requires use of additional burial space. Our stewardship efforts to date will also ensure that Army addresses the Navy Annex project, and plans to request those resources in future budget submissions. We are prioritizing, forecasting and planning for all future budget needs within the Army’s standard budget process.
We have accomplished a great deal at the ANCP, and many strategic efforts are still ongoing. Our Campaign Plan is guiding our priority efforts and resource prioritization, including completing an accountable dataset of gravesites, the Master Plan, Enterprise Architecture, public-facing application and Virtual Contracting Enterprise in coordination with partners across and outside of DoD. As the hearing is aptly titled, we remain committed to improving the Army National Cemeteries, ensuring we honor America’s fallen heroes and their families with the upmost respect and dignity they have earned and deserve, now and for decades to come.