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Army finds problems with IT contracts, records system at Arlington Cemetery

The records room at Arlington's visitors center, where most burial information is kept on microfiche.
The records room at Arlington's visitors center, where most burial information is kept on microfiche. (Tracy A. Woodward/the Washington Post)
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Instead, the cemetery spent $5.5 million on 35 different contracts with "a few vendors," but it has little to show for it. The Army has ordered an audit of contracts during the past five years.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) called it an "astonishing" waste of taxpayer money on a project that "should be able to be solved relatively easily."

The VA, which manages 131 cemeteries with 3 million gravesites (Arlington has 330,000), started digitizing all new interments in 1994, said Steve Muro, the agency's acting undersecretary for memorial affairs. In 2003, it started digitizing its older records, which date to 1862. That project took five years and cost $1.5 million.

At many cemeteries run by the VA, visitors can look up burial information on a touch-screen computer. At Arlington, that information is primarily on microfiche. "We are one fire, or one flood, or one spilled Starbucks coffee away from some of those records being lost or spoiled," Warner said.

Six of the early IT contracts at Arlington were awarded to a then-newly formed Manassas company called Offise Solutions, the only company mentioned by name in the report. Between March 2004 and June 2005, the business, which had never previously won a government contract, was paid more than $700,000 by the cemetery, according to federal contracting records.

The company delivered approximately 60 CDs of scanned burial files, according to the Army's report. But "these records were not delivered in a standardized format and were not stored as part of a database," the report says.

Richard J. Greaux, the founder of Offise Solutions, according to state records, said the company fulfilled all of its obligations.

"Everything that we were contracted for, we delivered. We did everything that we were supposed to. You got the wrong company," Greaux said when reached Thursday by phone. "You're looking for other companies."

The company that obtained the most lucrative contracts for IT work was Alpha Technology Group of Waldorf. The cemetery paid the company roughly $2.5 million between 2004 and 2007, according to federal records. Calls to the company Thursday were not returned.

The Army report also mentions a company that received a sole-source contract for work estimated at $250,000. The contractor's proposal came in at more than double that figure, but the contract was awarded "without any evidence . . . that the vendor was capable of performing the effort, given the significant increase in cost."

The report does not identify the contractor or describe the work to be performed. Gary Tallman, an Army spokesman, would not elaborate, saying that the "report has to stand on its own."

In another case, contractors drafted a fair-price analysis for work to be performed, a duty that is supposed to be "reserved only for government officials," according to the Army report. The cemetery's contracting officer "merely circled 'concur' " to indicate the cemetery's decision.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Division conducted a recent investigation of allegations of conflict of interest between Arlington personnel and a civilian contractor. Investigators referred their findings to the U.S. attorney's office but, said Christopher Grey, a CID spokesman, it "declined to pursue criminal prosecution based on the lack of substantial credible information."

Staff researchers Meg Smith and Julie Tate and staff writer Michael E. Ruane contributed to this report.

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