Plagued by a scandal over poor record keeping that included mismarked graves, Arlington National Cemetery is set to receive free help with digitizing its records from some of the nation’s largest technology vendors.
Fifteen members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council are set to provide free information technology support following a scathing U.S. Army inspector general’s critique of the cemetery’s operations that also led to U.S. Senate investigations.
Indeed, a recent Senate subcommittee report on the matter found that from 2003 to date, Arlington officials spent roughly $8 million on questionable technology contracts. By contrast, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs spent $1.5 million for interment records covering 131 cemeteries and three million graves.
Arlington suffers from a “general breakdown in sound business practices” that wasted money on useless technology work while 200 graves were either unmarked or mislabeled, the Army report found. Secretary of the Army John McHugh has since ordered widespread changes to the way the cemetery operates.
Spanning 200 acres and containing 330,000 graves, Arlington National Cemetery operates under the Army and has served as the nation’s preeminent burial ground for the past 150 years. The burial site includes the remains of President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Bobby and Ted; it attracts more than four million visitors a year.
Located just a 20-minute drive away in Herndon, the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) has about 1,000 member companies, many of whom are federal contractors. Moreover, many of the roughly 200,000 employes who work for member companies are former military personnel.
Fifteen NVTC members have volunteered their assistance as part of a group that will assess the cemetery’s needs:
- ACS, a unit of Xerox;
- SoltechOne; and
About a week after the inspector’s general’s report was released in June, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA) publicly suggested the NVTC lend its expertise in converting Arlington’s records from paper to computer. Warner is a former high-tech executive who co-founded the cellular company Nextel.
In recently announcing the Army has accepted the council’s pro bono assistance, the senator said:
“All of us were frustrated and angered to learn that Arlington Cemetery officials continued to rely on paper records, which means we are one fire, rainstorm or coffee-spill away from damaging or even losing these truly irreplaceable records.”
The NVTC assistance shows that members have “loyalty, compassion and admiration for those who served in the armed forces, many making the ultimate sacrifice,” said Bobbie Kilberg, the group’s president and chief executive officer.
“NVTC looks forward to working under the direction of Army Secretary McHugh and his team to help assess Arlington Cemetery’s technology requirements,” Kilberg added. “It is an honor and privilege to be involved.”
Besides representing the many high-tech companies headquartered in Northern Virginia, Sen. Warner has a personal connection to the group’s leaders. George C. Newstrom serves as president of Lee Technologies and was secretary of technology when Warner was Virginia’s governor.
“The NVTC membership is eager and willing to support the U.S. Army as it responds to this difficult situation,” Newstrom said. “We are united in our willingness to support Senator Warner in his efforts to remedy this crisis.”