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The Federal Government Can’t Even Run a Veterans Cemetery

Monday December 26th, 2011   •   Posted by David Theroux at 3:29pm PST   •  

In “Problems possible with nearly 65,000 Arlington graves, report says” in the Washington Post, Christian Davenport reports that the newly released year-long study, after earlier reports of misidentified remains, shows that the 150-year-old, Army-run, Arlington National Cemetery has problems with 25% of the graves! Errors include “mismarked or unmarked graves, urns that had been dug up and dumped on a dirt pile, and millions of dollars wasted on contracts that produced nothing…. a mass grave that held eight sets of cremated remains … a section for former slaves and black Civil War soldiers, cemetery maps showed a strip where 70 graves should have been. Today, not a single tombstone is there.”

As reported last year:

The former budget officer at Arlington National Cemetery warned the Army, the Defense Department’s inspector general, the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Management and Budget about problems at the center of the scandal now unfolding at the cemetery. His concerns were mostly ignored and, at least in one case, smacked down by an Army official with oversight of Arlington.

The former budget officer, Rory Smith, tried repeatedly to blow the whistle on the cemetery’s budget irregularities, as top officials began to squander millions in taxpayer dollars, ostensibly to computerize burial records and prevent the interment mistakes documented by Salon over the last year. As a result of his attempts to communicate his concerns to Army higher-ups, Smith was reprimanded and suspended for insubordination. A 20-year cemetery staffer, Smith later joined a long roster of cemetery workers who quit in disgust or were fired after reporting problems to cemetery and Army officials.

Smith’s account is the most damning evidence to date showing that Army officials were repeatedly warned about budgetary, management and record-keeping problems at the cemetery. The Army, which oversees Arlington, has said it was kept in the dark about the problems there. Army Secretary John McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee recently that the cemetery was “somewhat of a satellite sitting off by itself.”…

Some government officials running the cemetery have subsequently been removed, but the cemetery continues to be run as a protected enclave of military socialism operated by the U.S. Department of the Army and government-employee unions with massive federal subsidies, waste, in-fighting, and corruption.

The history and nature of the cemetery itself in government hands should have been a tip off of what was to come. After the Civil War in retaliation against the family of General Robert E. Lee, the land where the cemetery exists was seized by the U.S. government from the private farm of Lee’s wife Mary Anna Lee, a great grand-daughter of Martha Washington. The purpose was to create a graveyard for Union dead and the cemetery is located directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. As Wikipedia notes:

When Fort Sumter was forced to surrender at the beginning of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the federal army. Lee demurred, waiting to see if his native Virginia would decide to secede. When Virginia announced its decision, Lee resigned his commission and took command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia, later becoming commander of the Army of Northern Virginia….

The government acquired Arlington at tax sale in 1864 for $26,800, equal to $375,086 today. Mrs. Lee had not appeared in person, but rather had sent an agent, attempting to timely pay the $92.07 in property taxes (equal to $1,288.59 today) assessed the estate. The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the tendered payment. In 1874, Custis Lee, heir under his grandfather’s will passing the estate in trust to his mother, sued the United States claiming ownership of Arlington. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Lee’s favor in United States v. Lee, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process, Congress returned the estate to him. The next year, Custis Lee sold it back to the government for $150,000 (equal to $2,990,000 today) at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.

Featured Image:
Arlington National Cemetery

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December 2011