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Arlington making major progress

Leaders are praised for changes at cemetery.

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - A year-and-a-half after condemning officials at Arlington National Cemetery for "heartbreakingly incompetent management," Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and members of the Government Accountability Office complimented leaders Wednesday for making significant progress.

"Within 18 months, we have a completely different protocol at Arlington as it relates to accountability, and I think that's good," McCaskill said.

The marked praise came after the 2010 scandal involving the improper management of gravesites. Thousands of graves had been discovered to be improperly marked, burial urns with unidentified cremated remains had been found in landfills, and major bureaucratic discrepancies in burial documentation were discovered, with index cards used in many cases to identify graves.

At a hearing Wednesday, GAO officials and Army leaders cited major improvements, including in strategic planning, workforce management and technology at the cemetery, but they noted more progress must be made.

The Department of the Army reported Wednesday that its own re-inspection of the cemetery confirmed that the widely cited number of individuals buried there, 330,000, had been underestimated. The re-inspection is continuing, but new data suggest the figure is more than 400,000.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported on mismanagement of other national cemeteries, citing a Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration report that described scores of misplaced headstones and at least eight cases of people buried in the wrong places at several military cemeteries across the country.

McCaskill said Wednesday she would not feel settled on the issue until every gravesite was accounted for, so that "no tragedy like the one we saw unfold in 2010 is ever again reported."

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