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Senate legislation would require Army to account for every grave at Arlington National Cemetery

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 4, 2010; 8:22 PM

The Senate passed legislation Saturday that would require the Army to give a full accounting of every grave at Arlington National Cemetery and fix any errors found at one of the nation's most sacred military burial grounds.

The bill would also require the Secretary of the Army to report to Congress on its progress in reviewing and overhauling the management of the contracts at the cemetery, including those that were issued to computerize the cemetery's records. The secretary would also be required to take steps to communicate more effectively with the loved ones of service members who have been buried there.

The measure comes after the recent discovery of hundreds of mixups and lapses at the cemetery, including unmarked and improperly marked grave sites, and the Army's announcement of its first criminal investigation into the scandal. The failures occurred despite federal spending of $5 million to $8 million on multiple contracts to modernize the cemetery's antiquated record-keeping.

On Friday, an Army official confirmed that investigators were looking into whether a single grave had become a dumping ground for multiple sets of cremated remains that were dug up and left in a landfill. How the eight containers of remains ended up in a plot that was supposed to be holding a single set is now the subject of a criminal investigation.

"I am outraged that the problems continue to surface at Arlington Cemetery," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a written statement, adding that there could be "thousands" of unmarked or improperly marked gravesites. "The families that have loved ones at Arlington Cemetery deserve so much better than this. These are our heroes."

In June, the cemetery's leadership - former superintendent John C. Metzler Jr. and his deputy, Thurman Higginbotham - stepped down after the report by the Army inspector general found more than 200 unmarked or mislabeled graves in three of the cemetery's sections.

The bill was co-sponsored by McCaskill, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.). A spokeswoman for McCaskill said a companion bill must still be sponsored in the House.

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