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Posted at 11:08 AM ET, 07/27/2010

Arlington Cemetery officials subpoenaed

By Aaron C. Davis

ArlingtonWPphoto.jpgOfficials who ran Arlington National Cemetery for nearly two decades before hundreds of unmarked and mismarked graves were discovered last month have been served with subpoenas to testify Thursday before a Senate subcommittee investigating contracting irregularities, according to the committee's chairwoman.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on Contracting Oversight will require John C. Metzler, 62, and Thurman Higginbotham, 68, the cemetery's longtime superintendent and second in command, to testify at a hearing on Thursday morning, said Maria Speiser, spokeswoman for committee chair Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Neither man has spoken publicly since Army Secretary John McHugh last month announced that the Army's Inspector General had found more than 100 unmarked graves, scores of grave sites with headstones that are not recorded on cemetery maps, and at least four burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped in an area where excess grave dirt is kept.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that it found problems with another 130 graves between one of Arlington cemetery's least-known sections and one of its most popular. In a historic but little visited area of the cemetery, three rows of graves of freed slaves and black Civil War soldiers are missing. The 70 graves are listed on the cemetery's master map, but on the ground there are no headstones marking them.

Steps from President John F. Kennedy's grave and memorial, there are more then 60 discrepancies between the cemetery's map and what appears on the ground in a prestigious area where eight Supreme Court justices are buried. In many cases -- including the plot where former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and a Vietnam War veteran are buried -- two of the VIPs are buried where the map notes just one. Another grave that appears occupied on the map has no headstone. And seven graves that appear empty on the map are filled.

The Post also reported that thousands of pages of internal records and interviews with dozens of current and former Army employees reveal that the Army has launched multiple investigations into Arlington over the years.

Not only did they turn up chronic problems with record-keeping, but they also revealed a dysfunctional management structure that operated with limited and fractured oversight and a contracting system that appeared to operate outside the normal structure for the federal government. Repeated attempts to correct the situation fell short.

Congressional investigators are examining how far up the chain of command responsibility should rest as well as why, among other issues, cemetery officials frittered away at least $5 million for computer upgrades with little to show for it.

Metzler was harshly reprimanded by the Army and retired July 2. Higginbotham, 68, had been placed on paid administrative leave and has also since retired, effective July 3.

By Aaron C. Davis  | July 27, 2010; 11:08 AM ET
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It's bad enough that DoD can't figure out what it's doing in Iraq and Afghanistan... but now we learn they can't even manage a f**king cemetary!!

Posted by: Spruce1956 | July 27, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

There are some questions that I would like to hear Senator McCaskill ask Mr. Metzler and Mr. Higginbotham. These include:
 What education and training did you have that qualified you to be Senior Executive Service (SES) federal employees (equivalent to an Army General) and then to run a multi-million dollar operation?
What training and education have you had during the 20 years you ran Arlington Cemetery?
Who signed your annual evaluations since 1990? Who reviewed them?
 What were your salaries when you retired? What did you get for performance bonuses for the last 10 years? What amount will you receive in annual retirement pay?
 Why didn’t you and the Army take action concerning the 1992 and 1997 IG investigations?
Why did the workforce under your supervision go down from approx. 140 people to 100 people and what did you do about it?
What were the qualifications (education and training) of your senior staff to do their jobs (admin, finances, IT, human resources, etc)?
 What is your relationship (personal/fiduciary) with any of the senior employees at Arlington National Cemetery?
 What were the qualifications of all the contractors who were hired to support Arlington National Cemetery especially those hired for IT and the automation of burial records? Are there any personal or fiduciary relations between either of you and any of these contractors?
 Why didn’t you use the automated records system developed by the Veterans Administration for the National Cemeteries they manage?
 Who managed and was overseeing all of the contracts at Arlington?
 Who should be responsible for reimbursing the US taxpayer for the $7M wasted on automation of burial records?
 Do you really think you deserve a retirement check for your time as a leader at Arlington National Cemetery given what has been discovered (and continues to be discovered) about your mismanagement for the last 20 years?
 Who was the Army trying to protect by letting you two mismanage our nation’s most sacred ground over the last 20 years?
 What would you say if I (The senator) told you I am introducing an act of Congress to reduce your pensions by 20 years longevity and make your maximum retirement pay based ion your 1990 federal pay level? I’m doing the same for each military and civilian commander who you reported to.
 Tell me why Congress shouldn’t use this scandal to set an example for every civilian and military employee of the US government that we hold them fully accountable for everything that goes wrong when they are in charge?

Then again, are these hearings simply window dressing for the Senator in an election year?

Posted by: highexpectations | July 27, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse


That was the most helpful comment I have ever seen. Have you forwarded this to the senator? The public deserves answers for ths outrage.

Thank you for your comment

Posted by: bnichols6 | July 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Spruce1956 ... I'd like to know who hired him and who approved that hiring. He took a job they GAVE him. Who hired him? That's who they ought to indict ... I mean subpoena :)

Posted by: mitlen | July 27, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

I find it astonishing that the Post would report on this Senate hearing and imply it's the Post's reporting that led to it. Salon's year-long investigation led to the Army probe, and is driving the Congressional push for more oversight. In particular, Mark Benjamin broke the story of the tragic neglect of the Section 27, where free blacks and Civil War vets are buried, documenting the missing graves and headstones. It was shameful that earlier reporting wasn't even mentioned as the Post "revealed" troubles in Sec. 27 (Salon's general role in uncovering Arlington troubles was acknowledged, once, late in the piece.) Maybe Andrew Alexander should look into the Post's habit of taking credit for stories Salon broke.

Posted by: jwalsh2 | July 27, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

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