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 Mr. Patrick K. Hallinan, Executive Director of Army National Cemeteries Program, U.S. Department of Defense
Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member Titus and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on operations at Arlington National Cemetery and our efforts to sustain the sacred trust of our Veterans and Families. Since Ms. Condon provided her final testimony as Executive Director, Army National Military Cemeteries to this subcommittee a year ago, I have been honored and humbled by my selection as the new Executive Director. The transition of leadership has been smooth and effective providing a continuity of operations as we build upon the successes of our recent past to better serve our Veterans, Families, and the public.
I am pleased to testify alongside my former colleague, Mr. Glenn Powers, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Programs of the National Cemetery Administration. I would also like to thank Mr. Steve Muro, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, my friend and colleague for many years for his support of Arlington National Cemetery. Through the positive working relationship of Arlington National Cemetery and the National Cemetery Administration, we have trained staff, shared ideas and best practices, and provided opportunities for employees to permanently move across organizational boundaries.
Building upon the foundation of our dedicated efforts, each of us are privileged to serve the nation as caretakers of our nation’s most sacred shrine at Arlington. We remain committed to constant improvement of our operations. During the past seven months, my team has identified -- and created -- industry-leading standards with auditable business practices and institutionalized them at Arlington. We have designed and implemented stringent chain-of-custody controls with multiple points of redundancy to ensure accountability with a zero defect tolerance. We have instituted processes that have reduced the time for placement of headstones from multiple months after a service to an average of 45 days. We continue to perfect information technology that enables us to operate more efficiently internally as well as provide interactive capabilities to the general public. We are considering ways forward to repair and replace our aging infrastructure, and increase burial capacity at Arlington and extend the active life of the cemetery. We continue to perfect our organizational inspection program which will capture in Army doctrine the current standards and practices in place at Arlington, and facilitate the implementation of those standards and practices at all 40 Army Post Cemeteries nationwide. My team is dedicated to improving the Arlington experience for our visitors and perfecting our logistical and administrative best practices. We are focused on our core mission. The pace of requests and burials at Arlington remains at an all-time high, and our workforce is meeting the challenge.
BUILDING UPON OUR FOUNDATION OF EXCELLENCE
Arlington will fill its current vacancies, to include key positions, refine cemetery operations, expand our robust training program, and institutionalize cemetery expertise. As the Director of Army National Military Cemeteries, I will provide training assistance to our Post cemeteries while implementing an inspection program across those Army cemeteries in keeping with the high standards of Arlington.
The progress we have made at Arlington could not have been achieved without the excellent support and assistance of the Secretary of the Army and the “Big Army”. Additionally, I wish to acknowledge Military District of Washington’s Joint Forces, Army, Navy, Marine Corp, Air Force, and Coast Guard for their superb service day in and day out. With the guidance of the Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery, along with the invaluable efforts our Chaplains and the Arlington Ladies, we form a committed and united team dedicated to providing our nation’s fallen with the honors they’ve earned through their service to our country.
The Arlington National Cemetery team is building on the foundation of success achieved with 100% accountability for all decedents interred or inurned at ANC and Soldiers and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery using established accountability processes and geospatial mapping technology. The intensive, two year effort to achieve 100% accountability effort at Arlington was completed in the summer of 2012. Our personnel certify each burial service conducted daily, using a duplicative verification of grave location and decedent remains. Additionally, we digitally photograph every remains container interred and digitally associate that image with the burial record in our authoritative and auditable system of record.
To sustain 100% accountability and export our best practices to other Army Cemeteries, Arlington is perfecting and expanding our Organizational Inspection Program. Arlington National Cemetery continues to use and refine our detailed Organization Inspection Program as well as a Standards and Measures Program to self-evaluate operations and performance measures at Arlington and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. Our team began a detailed effort in the summer of 2013 to transform the ANC focused processes and programs into an appropriate inspection program applicable to the other 40 Army Post Cemeteries with an expected completion date of 31 December 2013. Upon completion of the inspection program, we will begin a systemic train, assist, and inspect program across all Army cemeteries. The Army National Military Cemetery (ANMC)-led inspection program will complement, not replace, the local installation commander’s programs.
With our on-going work with the Organizational Inspection Program and updates to our authoritative regulations and policies, we also looked to improve and expand our training programs. Arlington National Cemetery established a training program for new employees in the summer of 2013. This recurring training program, centered on the ANC’s Standards and Measures Program, will form the backbone of an ANMC-led training program for Cemetery Responsible Officials, and any other personnel that installation commanders responsible for cemeteries, desire to attend training. The training will be conducted at Arlington National Cemetery, and will provide authoritative training in best practices and standard procedures, complementing the information found in the Army Regulation and DA Pamphlet. This in-person, on-the-ground training will provide a clear picture of operation standards and norms for a national military cemetery. Attendees that successfully complete the training will receive official ANMC certification.
In March 2013, Arlington National Cemetery began directly ordering government headstone and niche covers from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs contractor resulting in more timely and accurate ordering of headstones. Prior to conducting a funeral service, cemetery representatives work with the primary next of kin or person authorized to direct disposition of the remains using an automated headstone designer tool to create a proposed headstone template. After the template is agreed upon, we wait two weeks from the date of service to allow Families the opportunity to change terms of endearment or other items of personal preference on the headstone. Following this designed intentional wait time, our Interment Services Branch staff reviews, approves, and submits the order to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs contractor. The average time from date of interment to setting of the stone is 45 days – previously this took four to six months.
Ongoing Planning and Design for Cemetery Expansion and Infrastructure
The Army remains committed to maintaining Arlington National Cemetery as an active cemetery for as long as possible to continue to honor and serve our Nation’s military heroes. In support of that commitment, last year we completed the construction of Columbarium Court 9. This new Columbarium added 20,296 burial niches for cremated remains and extended the Cemetery’s projected capability to accept cremated remains from 2016 until approximately 2024. During our May 9, 2013 Columbarium Court 9 dedication, Arlington National Cemetery, with the support of the Missing in America Project, inurned, with honor, six unclaimed remains, from all branches of our Armed Forces. A most fitting tribute to these deserving service members. This Columbarium is special in two ways, not only is it the largest Columbarium Court at the Cemetery, but its construction was funded entirely from the recovery of unliquidated prior year funds, demonstrating our commitment to appropriately manage and utilize all available funding to improve the Cemetery. Thus far, we have been honored to place over 225 Service or family members in Court 9.
Working closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, the Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and our Advisory Committee, we have completed planning for the Millennium Project expansion in the northern part of the cemetery. There were several iterations of design concepts for this project as the Cemetery tried to balance the need for increasing burial capacity while at the same time being environmentally-responsible, incorporating and protecting the area’s natural beauty and historic nature into the design. A construction contract was awarded in September and work will commence shortly. When construction is completed, it will add approximately 27,282 new burial opportunities.
With the Millennium project construction underway, we have begun planning an expansion on the southern side of the cemetery, into the land formerly occupied by the Navy Annex. We are in the earliest stages of project planning with the demolition of the previous facilities not scheduled to be completed until early 2014. As evidenced with the Millennium Project, the dedication of the project team, and continuous stakeholder involvement, will create a project concept that is both an appropriate expansion to the Cemetery and a place of honor for our veterans and their families. Although it is too early to tell what the final development will yield for the Navy Annex site, we project that with the Millennium expansion and the repurposed former Navy Annex site, the cemetery will have first interment space through the mid-2050s.
Arlington continues to work diligently to complete the most critical repairs to our aging infrastructure. We previously noted work on waterlines, flagstone, heating and cooling systems, but much work still needs to be accomplished. We have recently begun work on the second of five phases of waterline replacement. We have work underway to address several years of deferred maintenance on our parking garage, and will begin shortly to address additional phases of flagstone replacements, both of which will improve the safety and appearance of the cemetery. Our priorities for maintenance and repair work continue to focus on mission, safety and environmental protection.
With your great support we have been able to make many improvements to the aging infrastructure of the cemetery improving the safety of our grounds and protecting the environment. More work is required, some of which may be emergent. For instance, on May 30, 2013, my staff arrived at the cemetery to find a sinkhole in the middle of one of our roads. Investigation of the sinkhole revealed an area with many previous superficial repairs that over time resulted in the undermining of a culvert and ultimately failure of the roadway. We were fortunate in this case that it was not in an active part of the cemetery. It is these unexpected issues that we continue to find that impacts our priorities. Fortunately, your strong support has enabled us to address these issues.
Technology at Arlington
Arlington National Cemetery continues to implement technology to streamline cemetery operations and improve our visitors’ ability to explore the rich history of this National Shrine. We have made improvements to Arlington’s Interment Scheduling System and our Geographic Information Systems to manage day-to-day operations.
Just over a year ago, Arlington launched ANC Explorer, a free, web-based application that has transformed how visitors explorer the Cemetery. ANC Explorer allows Families and the public to locate gravesites, events or other points of interest throughout the Cemetery; to generate front-and-back photos of a headstone or monument; and to receive directions to these locations. We have installed kiosks with ANC Explorer in our Welcome Center and have one outdoor kiosk in the cemetery, with the intention to add additional outdoor kiosks later this year. I am excited to report that in less than one year, we have reached over 60,000 downloads of our first version of this app. This spring, as part of Arlington National Cemetery’s 150 anniversary commemoration, we will be releasing an updated version of ANC Explorer that will include enhanced functionality and tours that can be customized by the user.
Our GIS operational technology and application has received a number of awards from Federal Computing Week, Computer World, and Government Computer News. ANC Explorer was named, “App of the Year,” at the 2013 Federal Computing Mobile Summit.
We are always looking for opportunities for Families and the public to explore this national treasure. Arlington has partnered with Google to include Arlington National Cemetery in their Street View Collection. On October 20, 2013, the Google Street View team collected images walking the paths and driving the road of cemetery. Once the images are “stitched” together, visitors can take a 360-degree virtual tour of the entire cemetery on their smartphone or computer.
Section 60 Update
On Sunday, October 6, 2013, my senior staff and I conducted a round table discussion with twenty one Gold Star Families. The discussion addressed issues associated with cemetery maintenance and the Section 60 Mementos Pilot Program. The meeting was positive and generated several suggestions for improving communications between the family and Arlington National Cemetery. We have agreed to hold Gold Star Family roundtables twice a year. We are working to identify flexibility within existing policies. For example, as the cemetery enters the non-growing season (where mowing of the grounds is less frequent), the cemetery will allow small photographs and small handcrafted items not affixed to the headstone to be left at gravesites.
Arlington National Cemetery policy, which is similar to that of other national cemeteries, allows artificial flowers to be left at gravesites between October 10 and April 15. Allowing additional items to be left at gravesites during this time period is consistent with that policy. We will continue standard grounds maintenance during this time period and remove decayed floral items, items that are affixed to headstones or those that pose a safety hazard to visitors and staff, such as tobacco, alcohol, ammunition, or glass items. Every other Friday, cemetery personnel will also remove items considered to detract from the dignity and decorum of Arlington National Cemetery. I am committed to keeping the Gold Star Families informed and provide notice prior to implementation of any changes.
Reducing the Queue for Services at Arlington National Cemetery
Our core mission is to take care of Families at their time of need and schedule the service desired with appropriate honors earned as quickly as possible. This process requires working with the Families to document eligibility and with the services to schedule resources. We have implemented several measures to streamline the eligibility determination and scheduling process to reduce the amount of time Families must wait between first contact and the actual service. Since December 2010, we have collected metrics and data to better understand the interment services demand at Arlington National Cemetery. Requests for burial at ANC occur at a robust pace, and we expect the demand to remain constant as veterans and eligible service members from conflicts during the late twentieth century reach advanced age.
Over the last year, Arlington experienced a significant personnel turnover in the scheduling branch. Despite our best efforts to fill all vacancies, the temporary loss of personnel significantly impacted our ability to schedule funeral services, particularly inurnments. In March 2013, we noted an increase to the scheduling delay due to this loss of personnel. In response, Arlington sought and received authorization to hire against the vacant positions. By late June, the vacant positions were filled; and, when requested, the Secretary of the Army approved the use of overtime pay and temporarily reassigned personnel to assist in reducing the growing volume of requests. To reduce the impact to Families, the Secretary of the Army authorized me to direct re-allocation of additional personnel from existing end strength. This leadership focus significantly reduced the total of those pending scheduling.
THE IMPACTS OF THE LAPSE IN APPROPRIATION
The lapse of appropriation has caused Arlington National Cemetery to utilize available prior year funding to continue burial activities for our Veterans and their Families at our normal level. The available prior year funds allowed for continued burial operations during the sixteen day shutdown. Visitor operations continued with only minimal impacts. While ANC did not have to furlough employees during this period, the lapse did have an impact on day-to-day operations. We halted travel, training, and purchasing. However, sustainment, restoration and modernization of facilities continued as well as construction and/or design of ANC's major construction projects.
Through diligent efforts, adherence to established policies and standard operating procedures, and by leveraging technology, Arlington will do all within its power to sustain the sacred trust it has recently reclaimed. In conjunction with our partners at MDW, and with the great support of the services, the Arlington staff can assure the Nation of this: every burial service at Arlington National Cemetery will continue to be conducted with the honor and dignity our service members have earned, and their families will be treated with respect and compassion.
I appreciate the support of the subcommittee and look forward to answering any questions you may have.