By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; B4
Patrick K. Hallinan, who has been serving as acting superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery since an Army investigation revealed widespread problems there, has been appointed to the position permanently, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh announced Tuesday.
McHugh also said cemetery employees will begin training at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which officials said would help ensure a more professionally run cemetery and prevent some of the problems that have plagued the facility.
In June, a report by the Army inspector general found more than 200 discrepancies between burial maps and grave sites in three of the cemetery's 70 sections. At least four urns were found dumped in an excess-dirt pile. Since then, cemetery officials have opened graves and found in a few cases that remains have been buried in the wrong plots. The extent of problems at the nation's most hallowed military burial ground remains unknown.
Hallinan, who has worked for more than 30 years in the VA's cemetery system, replaces John C. Metzler Jr., who was superintendent from 1991 until he and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham, were ousted in June. Investigators found that under the men's leadership, the cemetery paid millions of dollars to digitize its paper record system but had nothing to show for the effort.
Updating the cemetery's antiquated paper records and fixing the discrepancies are top priorities, Hallinan said in an interview. "We have challenges, but we're on the right track," he said.
Last month, a bill introduced by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) called for a study into whether authority over the cemetery should be transferred to the VA - a move some veterans groups have said is long overdue. The VA operates 131 cemeteries with 3 million graves. The Army operates two cemeteries, Arlington and one at the U.S. Armed Forces Retirement Home in the District.
The bill also would require the Army to provide Congress with a full accounting of all of the more than 320,000 grave sites at Arlington.
In the meantime, Arlington employees, from upper-level management to grounds crews, will begin course and field work at the VA's National Cemetery Administration Training Center.
Until now, most training at Arlington "has been on the job," said Kathyrn Condon, executive director of the Army's National Cemeteries Program. "There hasn't been a formal school training program."
Before coming to Arlington, Hallinan was the VA's director of field operations for cemeteries, which put him in charge of VA cemetery policy and the department's vast network of burial grounds. He started his cemetery career in 1977 as a temporary laborer at Long Island National Cemetery in New York. Before joining the VA, he served as an infantry squad leader in the Marine Corps.