Wittman pushes again to put military officer in charge of Arlington National Cemetery

May 28, 2013

Rep. Rob Wittman has again proposed changing the leadership structure of Arlington National Cemetery, the latest effort to reform the cemetery in the wake of revelations of widespread mismanagement there.

Wittman (R-Va.) offered legislation Tuesday that would put a commissioned military officer in charge of Army National Cemeteries, under the theory that an officer would be more accountable than a civilian official. The House approved the same language last year as part of a broader defense authorization bill, but the measure never made it through the Senate.

“With a uniformed commanding officer standing watch over those laid to rest at Arlington, there will be a standard of accountability and excellence, commitment, honor and integrity known by those serving in uniform,” Wittman said in a release.

“The scandals and embarrassments that rocked Arlington went largely unprosecuted for one reason: No one in the former chain of command was held accountable for their actions and their gross negligence and mismanagement because none of those in the direct chain of command were commissioned military officers, meaning none of them was subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

A 2010 inspector general’s report and other probes of Arlington have focused on numerous instances of unmarked graves, people buried in the wrong graves and antiquated record-keeping at the cemetery.

Wittman, the previous chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, has been especially critical of the performance of Arlington’s past civilian administrators. At a hearing Wittman chaired in 2011, one Pentagon official testified that it was impossible to sanction civilian officials when they left their jobs.

“Our jurisdiction to take any administrative action against them evaporated the day they retired,” said Karl Schneider, principal deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. “Once they retire, we have no control.”

Wittman now chairs a different Armed Services subcommittee, and remains in good position to try again to move his legislation or attach it to another bill this Congress.

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