SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCOPERATIONS WITHIN THE NATIONAL CEMETERY SYSTEM (NCS)
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 1998
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Benefits,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10 a.m., in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Jack Quinn (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Quinn, Hayworth, LaHood, Filner, and Rodriguez.
Also Present: Representatives Evans and Doyle.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN QUINN
Mr. QUINN. We would like to begin this morning's subcommittee hearing and point out that the House is in session. We don't have a schedule for votes yet this morning, but in the event that we are called over, the Members that are here, we will adjourn, recess and come back and complete the hearing later.
I hope that the visitors and the panels will cooperate in the event there is a vote.
We are here today to receive testimony relating to the operations of the National Cemetery System and the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Collectively, these two organizations maintain a system of national shrines honoring the sacrifices offered by America's veterans. The Department of Defense will also testify this morning regarding the provision of military honors at veterans' funerals.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Before we begin, I would like to thank all of the Members who participated in last week's tour of Arlington National Cemetery. Congressman Filner, the Ranking Member of the subcommittee, Congressman Rodriguez, Congressman Snyder and Congressman Reyes joined me and about 15 staff members for a 2-hour tour of the cemetery at which time we had a chance to actually observe military honors at funeral ceremonies, as well as speak with some of the groundskeepers and talk with the Superintendent about some of the problems being faced not only at Arlington National Cemetery, but our national cemeteries across the country.
We were told then that at the current rate of approximately 20 burials a day, Arlington's lack of space is an ever-increasing problem. Members of this committee and the staff had an opportunity to view firsthand viable future expansion sites at Arlington, and we look forward to helping Arlington National Cemetery expand.
We all intend to continue working in a bipartisan fashion to keep Arlington as an active national cemetery so the Nation can continue its recognition of our most deserving veterans well into the next century.
The National Cemetery System comprises 115 cemeteries, about half of which are open to full casket first interments. The rest are completely closed or restricted to the interments of cremated remains or burial of second family members.
The National Cemetery System is facing a real challenge. Over the next 10 years, 14 cemeteries will either close entirely or go to first burials only. These closures represent the loss of opportunity for a burial in a veterans' cemetery for those veterans desiring to take advantage of that benefit.
I know that we will never be able to have a national cemetery placed conveniently near every veteran. That is probably impossible. However, we can make certain that NCS, in conjunction with the State Cemetery Grants Program, offers as many veterans as possible the choice of a burial in a veterans' cemetery. NCS must begin today to plan for the next round of construction projects so that they can meet the burial needs for veterans around the country.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is time to update the cemetery requirements study first done in 1987, and I hope that NCS will commit to doing that in an expeditious manner.
I am also aware of the administration's proposal to enhance the State Cemetery Grants Program by increasing the Federal share of the cost to 100 percent of the construction and initial outfitting of a State's veterans' cemetery. Unfortunately, when the administration made that proposal, they indicated that the enhanced program was intended to replace the national cemetery construction program. I concur with Chairman Stump in believing strongly that the State Grants Program is a supplement to but not a replacement for the National Cemetery System.
The committee has on several occasions asked the Department for clarification of the intent of the proposal, and until recently the Department has maintained that same position. I understand that the position may have recently changed, and we hope that Mr. Rapp can address that issue while we are here today.
We also want to make sure that everyone understands that NCS is doing a good job at a time when their resources are stretched to the limit. New cemeteries are scheduled to open by 1999, which will stretch those resources even further, but we are confident that NCS will meet that challenge.
There is one disappointment that I want to express, however. The recent action by the Acting Secretary, Togo West, in naming the future Joliet National Cemetery after President Lincoln seems to be unfortunate and contrary to a long-standing tradition of how Congress and VA have cooperated in naming VA facilities. I can't understand why the Acting Secretary made what he had to know was a controversial decision. His action certainly shows little appreciation for a number of congressional concerns, and I know our colleague Ray LaHood will want to comment on this issue later this morning.
The American Battle Monuments Commission is charged with operating America's 24 overseas veterans' cemeteries in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Mexico, Panama and the South Pacific. Last year nearly 9 million visitors passed through these cemeteries, a tribute to the high place of honor these final resting places hold in the hearts of all Americans.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The challenge facing the ABMC is a bit different than the one facing the National Cemetery System, however. Nearly all of ABMC's cemeteries are at least 50 years old and are approaching the time when infrastructure like water systems will need replacement. I want to assure each of you that we will do what is necessary to keep these beautiful shrines not only as monuments, but also as reminders to our allies of the price we have paid to maintain their freedom.
I now want to turn to the Ranking Member of the subcommittee, Bob Filner, for any remarks he may have before we begin the testimony.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB FILNER
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning to everybody.
As a former professor of history, I want to start off with the fact that it is President Abe Lincoln who is credited with initiating the National Cemetery System in 1862 when he directed that cemeteries be established near Civil War battlefields as burial sites for Union soldiers. And since that time, as the Chairman has pointed out, the National Cemetery System has grown to 115 cemeteries, and four new ones will be activated by the year 2000. In spite of this significant expansion, NCS is facing enormous challenges.
Again, as the Chairman pointed out, of the 115 national cemeteries, 22 are now closed to new burials, and 36 are only open to cremated remains. Within the next couple of years, the number of national cemeteries open to first interments of casketed remains will be further reduced by 50 percent, this coming at a time when the number of interments is expected to increase over 40 percent between now and 2010.
Given the situation, I was disturbed when I read in the GAO testimony that apparently the NCS strategic plan is for 5 years only, 1998 through 2003, and that NCS cannot specify what level of access veterans will have to a State or national veteran's cemetery during the peak years. And I inferred from both the GAO and the VA testimony that the NCS officials are refusing to accept GAO's recommendation to expand their strategic plan and discuss how current plans will be adjusted to meet the needs during the years of peak demand.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have several thoughts about the issue, which I look forward to discussing with our witnesses, and I thank the Chairman for this hearing today.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Bob, and thanks for your help and cooperation both on the tour last week and on these and all other issues.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Filner appears on p. 31.]
Mr. QUINN. Before I turn to Mr. LaHood, I do want to mention for the record this morning that we are joined in the audience by Frontier Middle School from Hamburg, NY, students who are touring the Capitol and are here this morning to see a hearing firsthand, and then they will visit Arlington National Cemetery later in their tour. And it probably should be footnoted that it is also the middle school that my son and daughter went to. I am the Chairman, so that's how they got in the room, I suppose. Executive privilege.
Thank you, and welcome to the students and teachers who are with us this morning.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. RAY LAHOOD
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding the hearing today, and I want to express my frustration in a recent action taken by Secretary West concerning the naming of a new addition to the National Cemetery System.
On April 8, then-Acting Secretary West issued a press release naming the yet-to-be constructed facility near Joliet, IL, the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Mr. West's office apparently moved unilaterally without any congressional or Veterans' Affairs Committee input whatsoever, disregarding VA's own policy on naming facilities.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The naming of this cemetery is something with which my office has been involved for many months. Even though I had made my feelings known to Mr. West's predecessor, my office was not consulted prior to the announcement. Other Illinois Members were also kept in the dark, learning, as I did, through a press release put out by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA's own policy clearly states that the naming of VA facilities in honor of individuals can be done only by Congressional mandate or by Executive Order of the President. Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, section 1.602 also clearly states the basis for names of national cemetery activities, which may be based on physical and area characteristics, the nearest important city or historic characteristic related to the area.
After studying the list of cemeteries in the National Cemetery System, I noticed that each is named after a city, region or geographic reference. The only exception I found is Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Kentucky, and this is understandable because President Taylor is buried in the cemetery.
I expressed my concern and questions about the naming of this cemetery to Mr. West in a letter. The response that I received from Mr. Rapp on behalf of Mr. West does not address the points that I raised in my letter.
I will be questioning Mr. Rapp further about this during his appearance here as a part of the second panel, and for the record I would like to make a part of this committee hearing the letter that I sent to Mr. West and the response that I received from Mr. Rapp, and I thank you for the opportunity to make my opening statement and look forward to the opportunity to question Mr. Rapp further about this important matter.
Mr. QUINN. Without hearing objection, your letters become part of today's record.
[The prepared statement of Congressman LaHood appears on p. 33.]
[The attachments appears on pp. 35 and 37.]
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. QUINN. We are here to help you and assist you in any way we can, the full subcommittee is.
Mr. Hayworth, any opening remarks?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. J.D. HAYWORTH
Mr. HAYWORTH. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. As one who has a national cemetery for veterans within the confines of his district, I am obviously very concerned about the future of the cemetery system, and I look forward to the testimony of witnesses, and again thank you for calling this hearing.
Mr. QUINN. We will go to our first panel this morning, and we are pleased to have representing the American Legion today Mr. John Vitikacs, Mr. Stephen Backhus and Mr. David Clark represent the General Accounting Office.
Gentlemen, we appreciate all of you being with us. We look forward to your testimony. Your full statement will become part of the record. We ask that you limit your opening remarks to 5 minutes or so, and we will start with the American Legion.
STATEMENTS OF JOHN VITIKACS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS AFFAIRS AND REHABILITATION COMMISSION, THE AMERICAN LEGION; STEPHEN P. BACKHUS, DIRECTOR, VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND MILITARY HEALTH CARE ISSUES, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE; AND DAVID L. CLARK, DIRECTOR, AUDIT OVERSIGHT AND LIAISON, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
STATEMENT OF JOHN VITIKACS
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Mr. VITIKACS. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, good morning. The American Legion thanks you for providing us an opportunity to comment on national cemetery matters.
Before we begin, we would like to acknowledge the admirable job that the former National Cemetery System Director, the Honorable Jerry Bowen, performed in that capacity. The American Legion wishes Mr. Bowen well and appreciates his tireless efforts on behalf of the Nations' veterans and survivors.
Mr. Chairman, the decade of the 1990s will be recalled as a period of tremendous and necessary growth for the national and State veteran cemetery systems.
The planning, construction and opening of six new national cemeteries and many State veterans' cemeteries between 1990 and the year 2000 is unprecedented. Abundant thanks goes to many individuals for this accomplishment, the least of which is the Congress of the United States. Without your active support, none of the recent expansion would be possible.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to focus today on a few important points. The newest national cemeteries, including those to be activated by the year 2000, places the national and State veterans' cemeteries in an appropriate position to accommodate the anticipated increase in World War II veterans' death rates.
However, there is little time to take pleasure from the recent accomplishments of the national and State veterans' cemetery systems. Their work is not yet complete. The National Cemetery System must immediately prepare a viable strategic plan to accommodate the anticipated large death rates of America's aging veterans population. The American Legion believes VA's developing strategic plan must address the peak years of projected World War II veterans' death rates, the years between 2000 and 2015. Additionally, large numbers of Korean War and Vietnam War-era veterans will soon replace the World War II generation as the aging veteran population.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ironically, the current strategic plan of the National Cemetery System only extends to the year 2003. The American Legion believes that the National Cemetery System must develop an incremental, long-range strategic plan through at least the year 2025, complete with construction and burial cost projections, and develop alternative options to burial in national cemeteries. While cremation is becoming more popular, in itself cremation is not the sole answer to veterans' and dependents' burial requirements.
The National Cemetery System currently manages a three-part burial strategy. That is, where possible, to expand existing national cemeteries, to construct new national cemeteries, and placing a greater emphasis on the State Cemeteries Grants Program. As the American Legion testified last year, the VA proposal to enhance the State Cemetery Grants Program, while supportable, would still leave VA in the awkward position of relying on the States to develop a coherent national burial strategy.
First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to coordinate and implement a realistic veterans' burial strategy. To achieve this goal, the American Legion recommends increasing the burial options available to veterans and their eligible dependents.
We recommend that the National Cemetery System immediately conduct a study to determine the cost-effectiveness of reinstating the burial and plot allowance to all eligible veterans.
As commented in our submitted statement, veterans prefer burial close to their roots. It would require many more national and State veterans' cemeteries to achieve the 75-mile, 75 percent burial goal set by the NCS. The National Cemetery System could also explore the viability of purchasing cemetery plots in existing private cemeteries.
Mr. Chairman, the American Legion is certainly not opposed to building additional national and State veterans' cemeteries. In today's budgetary climate, however, the expectation that an open national cemetery will be available to all veterans is impractical. On the contrary, all options to providing a dignified burial for eligible veterans and their dependents must be explored.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, that concludes my remarks. I will be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Vitikacs appears on p. 50.]
Mr. QUINN. I think for this first panel, we will hear from the GAO first, and we will ask the Members to maybe save all of their questions for the full panel.
STATEMENT OF STEPHEN P. BACKHUS
Mr. BACKHUS. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss the National Cemetery System's planning efforts.
As you know, with the aging of World War II veterans, the number of veteran deaths and interment requests will grow substantially each year now and peak between the years 2005 and 2010. Planning for these circumstances is obviously a very important matter. My testimony today focuses on NCS's plans for addressing the future burial needs of veterans and their families and what NCS can do to extend the service period of existing national cemeteries.
My remarks are based on our September 1997 report on these topics as well as recent discussions with NCS officials.
NCS has adopted a 5-year strategic plan for fiscal years 1998 through 2003 with the goal of ensuring that burial in a national or State cemetery is an available option for all veterans and their eligible family members. The NCS strategic plan has multiple strategies for achieving this goal, which include establishing new national cemeteries, expanding existing ones, and encouraging States to provide additional burial sites through participation in the State Cemetery Grants Program.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC NCS expects that by 2003 about 80 percent of veterans will have reasonable access to a veterans' cemetery. However, it is unclear how veterans' burial needs will be met beyond 2003, in other words, during the peak years of demand, since NCS's strategic plan does not address the longer term. While NCS officials have told us that over the long term they plan to use the same strategy as described in its current 5-year plan, NCS is unable to specify the extent to which veterans will have access to burial benefits during the peak years. Such estimates stop at the year 2003.
Although we recommended in our September report that NCS address in its strategic plan how it will accommodate these longer-term burial needs, NCS believes that the strategic plan should cover only a 5-year period to conform with VA's strategic planning and budgeting process. Given the magnitude of the projected increases in demand for burial benefits, however, we continue to believe that it is important for NCS to articulate to the Congress and other stakeholders specifically how it plans to address veteran burial needs beyond just the next 5 years.
For example, currently over half of the national cemeteries are unable to accommodate casket burials of first family members, and NCS projects that an additional 15 cemeteries will be in the same situation by the year 2010. The question is how many new cemeteries will be needed and where beyond the four that NCS has identified in its 5-year plan.
Furthermore, while NCS plans to encourage States to establish cemeteries, States have shown limited interest thus far. Therefore, we believe that it is crucial that NCS specify what potential resources it needs and what reliance it plans to place on States to accommodate burial needs during the peak years.
Turning to the issue of how NCS can most efficiently extend the service period of existing cemeteries, we analyzed the cost of developing casket grave sites, columbaria and in-ground cremating sites on 1 acre of land in a cemetery nearing exhaustion of casket grave space. Our analysis showed that the average burial cost would be lowest and the service delivery period by far the longest using columbarium interment. That is, costs are about 60 percent less than casket graves. VA could extend the service delivery for over 50 years compared to about a half a year for casket site.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While historical data shows that the majority of veterans and their families prefer a casket burial, cremation is an acceptable interment option for many, and the demand for cremation at national cemeteries is increasing. For example, veterans choosing cremation increased about 50 percent between 1990 and 1996, and NCS officials expect demand for cremation to continue to increase in the future. The Cremation Association of North America projects that cremation will account for 40 percent of all burials in the general population by 2010.
NCS concurred with the recommendations in our September report to identify opportunities to construct columbaria in existing cemeteries and to collect and use information on veterans' burial preferences to better plan for future burial needs. It plans to collect and use such data in its next survey of veterans, which is planned for the year 2000.
Mr. Chairman, I will be glad to respond to any questions that you or other members of the committee may have.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Backhus appears on p. 53.]
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Clark, your testimony will deal with the American Battle Monuments?
Mr. CLARK. That's correct.
STATEMENT OF DAVID L. CLARK
Mr. CLARK. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am pleased to be here to discuss the audit ofthe first ever audit of the ABMC's financial statements.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We strongly supported the efforts of this subcommittee to require ABMC to prepare financial statements, and we commend ABMC for their efforts in preparing the statements and for their cooperation in the audit.
It is important to provide some context for ABMC's efforts. Until 8 years ago, most Federal departments and agencies did not prepare financial statements and have them audited. This situation contrasted markedly with State and local government agencies and, of course, with publicly traded companies, all of which have been preparing statements and having them audited for quite some time.
The Congress substantially remedied this situation with the passage of legislation in 1990 and 1994 calling for major Federal departments and agencies to annually prepare financial statements and to have them audited. It is important to note that the majority of Federal departments and agencies were unable to obtain unqualified or clean opinions on the financial statements in the first year that they were audited.
The legislation calling for ABMC to prepare financial statements for fiscal year 1997 was passed early in fiscal year 1997, and to say the least, the time frames were quite challenging. And even though ABMC is a relatively small agency, it does not have a modern integrated financial monitoring system, and it had not prepared agencywide financial statements and had them audited since its establishment in 1923.
In order to meet the new legislative mandate, ABMC had to create financial statements as well as overview notes and supplementary information almost from scratch. ABMC hired a contractor to help it format the statements, and it also contracted with the Treasury Department to help with the statements and, just as importantly, determine how to select and implement a new financial management system.
The audit results on the whole were overwhelmingly positive. ABMC's balance sheet, which shows assets, liabilities and acquisitions as of the fiscal year, were reliable. ABMC management's assertions on internal control are fairly stated, and no reportable instances of noncompliance with laws and regulations were found.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ABMC's other financial statements which summarized ABMC's operations over the fiscal year were not audited because, as is often the case on first-year audits, it is impractical to audit opening balances.
ABMC management did acknowledge an important internal control problem. Specifically, management acknowledged that internal controls in place at the end of fiscal year 1997 were not effective in ensuring that transactions were properly recorded, processed and summarized to readily permit the preparation of reliable financial statements and to maintain accountability over assets.
As a result, it took considerable effort on ABMC's part to prepare the statements and is a major reason why ABMC needed to obtain outside help. ABMC plans to select a commercial, off-the-shelf financial system, which, if properly selected and implemented, should strengthen ABMC's internal controls and allow ABMC to more easily prepare statements in the future.
That system should resolve most of the internal control issues identified in the audit. The future looks bright for ABMC's financial accountability. ABMC should soon have a new system in operation, all of its financial statements should be audited, and if ABMC accepts our suggestions, its annual report will include the audited financial statements, which is now done for 1997, and the statements will have a separate breakout for the World War II Memorial Fund, which, as you know, will require substantial funding.
That concludes my remarks.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Clark appears on p. 62.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, gentlemen, for your testimony.
I have a question or two and then a request for some more information.
John, you said that your suggestion was to put a plan together to take NCS to at least the year 2025?
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VITIKACS. An incremental plan.
Mr. QUINN. And, Mr. Backhus, you are saying that right now the National Cemetery System has a plan to the year 2003, they put together a 5-year plan, and yet both of you told me that the peak years that we should plan for, at least for World War II veterans, will be between 2005 and 2010. So at the moment the National Cemetery System doesn't have a plan that gets to even the beginning part of those peak years. Is that correct?
Mr. VITIKACS. That is correct.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Backhus, you had a conversation, you say that you used your information from a report done in 1997, I believe, and you have had discussions with the National Cemetery System about this lack of a plan. Can you comment on the response?
Mr. BACKHUS. Yes. We have had a number of conversations going back to the issuance of that report to as recently as the day before yesterday.
The conversation has essentially gone like this. The National Cemetery System's plans are developed to coincide with the VA strategic planning and budgeting process.
Mr. QUINN. I see.
Mr. BACKHUS. Which covers a 5-year period.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. BACKHUS. They feel that to go beyond 5 years delinks it, decouples it from the process. The rest of the agency doesn't budget that way and plan that way; and, therefore, this would not be linked very well.
Mr. QUINN. What is your opinion of that delinking problem?
Mr. BACKHUS. What we are suggesting is that a longer plan not be a substitute for the 5-year plan, but a supplement to the 5-year plan. In other words, it is entirely appropriate to have a 5-year plan, but in this case it is also appropriate to supplement that 5-year plan with this additional detail as to what they plan to do to accommodate the peak years and to allow all stakeholders to weigh in.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. It seems to me that even though the VA plan and budget numbers are for 5 years, it wouldn't cause any problem to have a supplemental or a longer plan even if you didn't put the budget numbers to it yet.
Mr. BACKHUS. Correct. You have had a lot of hearings on GPRA, and you know that the Act specifies that a strategic plan should be at least 5 years. It doesn't say that it be only 5 years or a maximum of 5 years. It anticipated that there we are going to be some agencies like EPA and NASA who have to think long term and have planned for that long term.
This is a situation where we can see what is coming. The VA and the NCS knows what is going to happen. It is time, I think, to get specific about how it is that we are going to address these needs.
Mr. QUINN. I couldn't agree with you more, and I will ask the same question of NCS representatives when they are at the table just to be fair with everybody, but it seems almost too easy. Maybe I am missing something. By the end of the hearing
Mr. BACKHUS. They have a lot of the information already that would be required to produce such a plan, so it doesn't require them to go out and gather up a whole lot of additional information. Obviously they know what the demand will be. They know approximately where the veterans live, where they are concentrated. They know what the costs of the different burial options are. There is lots of that kind of information available, and now it is time to put it together into a plan and to throw it out there.
Mr. QUINN. I agree.
John, your comment about 75-mile, 75 percent. Explain that to me, please.
Mr. VITIKACS. Yes. This is a strategy, if you will, that developed out of discussions between VA and OMB a number of years ago that ultimately the plan that VA is attempting to reach is to provide national cemetery burial options to 75 percent of the veterans' population within 75 miles of an open national cemetery. So it is 75/75.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much. I will save the rest of my questions and give the other Members a chance.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also agree with your comments about the lack of response to the GAO's reports and recommendations.
I think I will warn Mr. Rapp when he comes before us that the penultimate paragraph in his own testimony will be submitted to some contest about memos or testimony that make no sense. The answer to GAO questions or recommendations is: we are concerned that the GAO's recommendations to extend the strategic plan does not conform with the Department's strategic planning process.
That was the point of GAO's recommendation, in fact, to show that it did not conform and to make it more sensible and more rational to the needs that we see coming. And thisextending the strategic plan beyond the 5-year budget cycle would delink or sever the relationship: that is a ridiculous statement! If they have a 5-year budget cycle, it ought to be managed in a way that will meet the needs that are coming 10, 15 years out, and so I appreciate your pointing that out to us.
I was also interested in Mr. Backhus' testimony which spoke to the States' reluctance to join this effort, and I was wondering if there was any reason. I didn't notice that you tried to account for that or what we could do about that. There is limited interest, you say, in legislative process; fewer than half the States have established cemeteries, et cetera.
Mr. BACKHUS. I probably should have spent more of my 5 minutes on that topic.
Essentially what the States tell us and the people at NCS have told us is that while the States enjoy the Federal grant, what they really need, what they really desire, is money to help them with the operating costs.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The State Cemetery Grant Program now provides up to 50 percent funding, as you know, for the development of a cemetery and the construction of a cemetery. It doesn't provide resources for the maintenance and upkeep of that cemeterywhere the long-term expense isand that is why they are reluctant to participate.
What I meant by the statement that few States are interested in participating is that fewer than half of the States do have a cemetery; and in particular, many of the large States where there are a significant number of veterans have not participated or do not have one that is currently operating. Those are Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, New York and Michigan, I think.
Mr. FILNER. So did you have any recommendations on how to increase that participation, or certainly this situation has to be part of a 5-, 10-, 15-year plan, obviously?
Mr. BACKHUS. I think you are right. Clearly there can't be enough VA national cemeteries built to accommodate all of that need.
Mr. VITIKACS. If I could, I will help Mr. Backhus on your last question.
The American Legion in the past has recommended that the burial plot allowance that is provided to the States now, which is $150 per burialand that is all that they receive into the future, there are no annual funds available to help offset the cost of maintenance and operationswe have suggested that the $150 amount, which has been set at $150 for at least the past 15 years, needs to be looked at.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you. I think all of us who have been in government, at whatever level, find that there is a reluctance to even accept capital projects if they require maintenance, and that is part of what we have to recognize as to these duties, whatever it is, parks or cemeteries.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
Mr. DOYLE. First, Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank you for allowing me to sit in this hearing even though I am not a member of your subcommittee. I do have an opening statement that I will submit for the record in the interest of time.
Mr. QUINN. Without objection.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Doyle appears on p. 40.]
Mr. DOYLE. Mr. Chairman, I represent western Pennsylvania, and more specifically Allegheny County, which is the second oldest county in the country, and consequently it also happens to have one of the largest veterans' populations in the country, and so this is an important issue to the people of western Pennsylvania.
I know that you said that the greater need takes place past the initial 5-year plan, and we know where the need is and what the need is.
Have we put a number on the number of additional national cemeteries? What do you project as you look down at, say, a 10-year plan as opposed to a 5-year plan what the need would be in terms of how many new national cemeteries we are talking about?
Mr. VITIKACS. Immediately there are another six areas which have already been examined and determined to have a need for a national cemetery. This is thethis comes out of the 1997 National Cemetery Consultants study, and Pittsburgh is one of those areas.
Mr. BACKHUS. I can't give you a precise answer for how many national cemeteries or, for that matter, State cemeteries there ought to be or needs to be, but the major metropolitan areas that are in need of additional burial spaces, cemeteries, are Atlanta, Detroit and Miami in addition to that.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOYLE. In addition to the six that you have mentioned in the study?
Mr. BACKHUS. Correct.
Mr. DOYLE. Thank you very much.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mike. We appreciate the work that you do on the full committee for the veterans.
Gentlemen, thanks for your help this morning, and we will move to our second panel.
On our second panel we are going to have Ms. Carolyn Becraft, Mr. Roger Rapp and Mr. Vincent Barile. Thank you and welcome.
As we mentioned earlier in opening remarks, Roger, you are Acting because the former Director, Jerry Bowen, has returned to what he calls private life, and we want to thank Jerry for the pleasure we had working with him, and please convey our best wishes to him when you see him.
Before we move to any kind of opening statements, my opening remarks, I am going to yield to Mr. LaHood at this time.
Mr. LAHOOD. Well, I would like to ask Mr. Rapp some questions, if I may.
Mr. Rapp, as you heard in my opening statement, I am a little more than dismayed about the decision by the Acting Secretary to name the cemetery of Joliet after Abraham Lincoln, and let me just express why I am more than a little dismayed about it.
In Illinois, particularly in Springfield, IL, we have a whole range of facilities named in honor of Abraham Lincoln. I think Abraham Lincoln is synonymous with Springfield, and Springfield is synonymous with Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln represented pretty much the district that I represent. He was a Congressman from Springfield. He ran for the U.S. Senate from Springfield. When he left after being elected President, he left a home in Springfield, IL, which is there, and there is a national park run by the National Park Service. When Mr. Lincoln was assassinated, his body was interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL, as well as his wife and his children.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are many, many monuments in his honor there, and part of my reasoning for objecting to naming a cemetery in Joliet, IL, the Abraham Lincoln Cemetery is I think it is bad public policy. First of all, when people are on Interstate 55 and they see one of these big brown signs that says ''Abraham Lincoln Cemetery,'' you are going to have people pulling in asking where Mr. Lincoln is buried. And when they find out that he is buried about 200 miles south of there, I think they are going to be a little astounded.
I think it is a silly decision for that reason alone, but it is also, I think, a slap in the face to the people of Springfield, IL.
I also think that it is very clear to the Department through discussions I had with your predecessor and discussions I had with the previous Secretary and discussions I had with the Chairman of this committee that I was objecting to this. No one ever talked to me about it from the Department. I learned about this naming in a press release or a press call that I got from somebody in the Chicago area, and I just think that it is wrong. I really do.
I have a list of all of the cemeteries under your jurisdiction, under the Department of Veterans Affairs jurisdiction, and there is one cemetery named in honor of a person, and I mentioned that in my opening statement. Every other cemetery is named after the geographic area or the locale where those cemeteries are. I think it would have made a lot more sense to name the cemetery the Joliet National Cemetery.
If you wanted to name it the Land of Lincoln Cemetery, I would not have objected. If you wanted to name it something where you could reflect Lincoln, that would have been fine with me. I think it is wrong for the people of Springfield, and I think it is wrong for the citizens to believe that this cemetery named after Abraham LincolnI think it is going to be totally confusing.
And the bottom line for me is I want to know if you have any intentions of trying to correct it. I do have a meeting with Secretary Togo West scheduled. He was good enough to call me after he found out that his nomination in the Senate was being held up because I raised Cain with the Majority Leader about it; he was good enough to call me and apologize. He said it was a lousy decision, and it was lousy in the way it was announced.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have three Members from Illinois on the full committee, and I checked with Mr. Evans, who is the Ranking Member, and I checked with Mr. Gutierrez, who is from Joliet, and they didn't know a thing about it, and it was done in the dark of night without anybody knowing about it, including three Members from Illinois.
Obviously I am very frustrated. I am frustrated because I represent a part of Illinois that is Abraham Lincoln territory, and I also think it is going to be confusing as hell to the peopletourists that drive up and down Interstate 55 and see that sign.
So the bottom line for me, sir, is: Is it a done deal, and is there any way that we can correct it? And that is the same question I am going to ask Mr. West when he comes to my office today, but I would like to hear your response.
And what I don't want to hear, Mr. Rapp, with all due respect, is that you are new on the job and you didn't have anything to do with it. If that is what you are going to say, I will go down to my office and meet Mr. West who is coming in a half hour.
Mr. RAPP. I have prepared remarks that I will provide later, and I will respond directly to your question.
Mr. QUINN. I am sorry, we will begin with Ms. Becraft. Mr. LaHood has another engagement, and so I yielded to him.
Mr. RAPP. I would like to begin by apologizing to Congressman LaHood for the manner in which we did not coordinate this decision with him and, again, I know that Secretary West has made a phone call and offered the same apology.
I think it may be appropriate to offerthat I am not going to disavow myself from the process. I was an integral part of the process. What we were trying to do was find a name for the cemetery that would be acceptable to the broad-based constituency of the veterans in the greater Chicago area. This area is the same 75-mile radius that John Vitikacs mentioned earlier, and that is the area we used when we asked people their opinion. We asked the veterans from Indiana and Wisconsin and Illinois, all those veterans in that three-State area that we are going to serve, what name they wanted for the cemetery. In the process of asking the veterans that question over the last year and a half, it became very evident that they could not agree on any particular name.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. When you say that you asked people in the three-State area what name, who did you ask?
Mr. RAPP. Well, we react to information that is provided to us by folks who, on their own, sent in suggestions. We also asked veterans' committees and support groups.
Mr. QUINN. Did you go to VSOs and say, we are going to name a cemetery here, what would you like to call it? Is that how it goes?
Mr. RAPP. In the process, we asked them what names are acceptable.
Mr. QUINN. When you say ''they,'' are you asking the VSOs?
Mr. RAPP. Yes, other interested veterans' groups that have been waiting for a cemetery for a long period of time. Many of them are very interested in the process, including the naming of the cemetery.
Mr. QUINN. Did you ask the Members of Congress from the three-State area what they would like to name it?
Mr. RAPP. I was aware what the immediate Member's choice was. I also asked Congressman Visclosky when I met with him and veterans groups a while ago. If I could digress, I will explain how I got to discuss this issue with him.
A couple years ago there was an appropriation add-on to build a new cemetery in Northwest Indiana, and I asked Congressman Visclosky if I could meet with him. We did meet and I explained that I felt a competing cemetery so close to the one we were already planning for near Chicago probably might work against our efforts to build the Chicago cemetery.
He asked me to come out to his district. He said: I understand. I won't push for the northwest Indiana cemetery. I understand that our district is within 45 miles of a site that you are contemplating for the greater Chicago area but would you come out and tell our veterans this.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So after 2 hours with the Congressman off in the corner and me taking on his veteran support committee, if you will, the bottom line was that they would get on board and support the Chicago area cemetery. But, the people in Indiana said, just don't name it ''Chicago,'' and just don't name it ''Illinois,'' and just don't name it ''Joliet''; get a name that we can all embrace and accept. We are tired in Indiana of being the stepchild, if you will, to the people in Chicago.
That was a few years ago, and that made me aware that naming cemetery was going to be an interesting process. Frankly, the veterans of Chicago didn't want to name it after Joliet and vice versa.
There was no single geographic name that was proposed that was without controversy. So in the process it became evident to other people, since the name Abraham Lincoln was being talked about by myself and obviously on the Hill, that it looked like the name might become Abraham Lincoln. When it didn't happen, we found that we couldn't even plan ground-breaking ceremonies. We needed to name the cemetery.
So in that mode we met and talked with a veterans' group that was organizing a volunteer support advisory committee. This volunteer group of veterans wanted to help with the dedication. We met with them at the beginning of March, and I tried to determine if there were other names that might be acceptable other than Abraham Lincoln. I was shouted down.
The veterans in this group said, give us a single reason why we can't name the cemetery after Abraham Lincoln, and notwithstanding Congressman LaHood's reasons, I tried to offer them one and they said, we are the people using this cemetery. We are the veterans that are going to be served by this cemetery. Can't we have this name that we all agree on? And they acknowledged that they didn't agree on the other names.
And so with that, and knowing with 50 leaders of various veterans' organizations, including the American Legion, the VFW, the DAV, AMVETS, the Military Order of Purple Heart, Italian-American veterans, the national commander and a past national commander of the American Legion, the Indiana Department Commander of the American Legion, a number of county veteran service officers, and the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, it seemed like Abraham Lincoln was a good name. And with that as the background, and with us serving veterans, I felt that it was an acceptable name.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are a couple points to be made. Abraham Lincoln is the father of the National Cemetery System. We are using his name in a broader context than probably we should have in terms of the issues associated with the Springfield heritage. We were looking upon him as someone who was from Illinois, the Land of Lincoln. Frankly, we thought it would be well-received and would be considered, if you will, a gift to name the cemetery after Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the National Cemetery System. It is the only cemetery that I think will ever be named after a person.
Unfortunately, in the process of doing all of that, perhaps I didn't do my job well enough in sharing all of the information that I was aware of with Secretary West, and again I apologize for that.
I heard Congressman LaHood's mention of highway signs, and I can offer that I will do everything that I can to assist on that. For example, I see the highway signage for the cemetery on the interstate saying perhaps ''VA National CemeteryNext Exit'' and not even putting Abraham Lincoln on the sign if that would help. I think that is a reasonable approach.
I see within our visitor's information center displays that can be worked on with the Springfield heritage folks that explain not only Abraham Lincoln's strong obvious relationships with Springfield, but his relationship with the National Cemetery System and with the VA.
I think that would help. I am willing to work with Congressman LaHood and folks in the Springfield area to that end to allow us to have this name and share it with them.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
Mr. LaHood, do you want to respond?
Mr. LAHOOD. I don't want to take the entire time of the committee to pursue this.
I didn't hear you mentionyou said that you talked with the representative from that area, and I have no doubt that you did, but I guarantee youwell, I will just say this. I don't know if you consulted with the Senators or not, but I know one Senator that you didn't consult with because I talked to him personally about it, and he was totally surprised the day that this was announced. I don't know if he was consulted or not, but he was surprised when it was disclosed that this was going to be named.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think it is marvelous that you checked with all of the veterans' groups, but in reality the Congress is the one that appropriated the money. We are the ones that are going to pay the bill on behalf of the taxpayers, and I don't know that any of us on this committee were consulted.
I made my opinions known on this quite some time ago in writing and personally to your predecessor, and it is fine that you consulted the veterans, but it would have been nice if you had consulted with us, too.
Mr. EVANS. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. LAHOOD. I will yield.
Mr. EVANS. I join in the gentleman's frustration as a Democrat in the lack of consultation here in this process. I was not here for the full exchange, but I fully support what the Congressman for my adjoining district has to say, and hope that this never is repeated, and accept the apology, and hope we can work closer and have better communications in the future.
I thank the gentlemen for yielding.
Mr. LAHOOD. The bottom line is that you are standing by the name?
Mr. RAPP. I know of no effort under way to reconsider the decision.
Mr. QUINN. The gentlemen's time has expired.
Mr. LAHOOD. I would say it has.
Mr. QUINN. This is important information, and that is why we took the time to do it. We appreciate your professionalism.
Ms. Becraft is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for Personnel, Family Support and Education at the Department of Defense.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We would like to ask you to continue with the topic matter this morning, and as always your full statement will be recorded and entered into the record. Your opening remarks should be limited to 5 minutes, so you can begin right now.
STATEMENTS OF CAROLYN BECRAFT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PERSONNEL, FAMILY SUPPORT AND EDUCATION, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE; AND ROGER R. RAPP, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CEMETERY SYSTEM, ACCOMPANIED BY VINCENT L. BARILE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF OPERATIONS SUPPORT, NATIONAL CEMETERY SYSTEM
STATEMENT OF CAROLYN BECRAFT
Ms. BECRAFT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee. I fully appreciate the opportunity to address before you today the subject of military burial honors.
As mentioned, I have provided my written statement for the record. I also have a statement to submit on behalf of the Department of Army, which addresses the availability of surplus military weapons and ammunition to approved organizations for ceremonial purposes.
Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by stating that the Department of Defense recognizes the importance of paying final tribute on behalf of a grateful Nation to honor those who will have served our country. It is Department of Defense policy that every reasonable effort be made to provide funeral honors for current and former members when requested. We owe them a great debt of gratitude and believe that we should properly honor them when they pass on. This is a long-standing and proud tradition of the Armed Forces and one that we strongly support.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We assign the military departments the responsibility for providing funeral honors, within the constraints of available resources. Our commanders in the field, who execute this mission, are dedicated to making this happen. We estimate that the military services provided at least 30,600 funeral honors in 1997 alone. Of the 30,600 honors, I would like to stress that 65 percent consisted of funeral honor details beyond our minimum requirement for veterans' burial honors, and that minimum requirement is that the service representative present a flag to the family.
Just in the Army and the Air Force, this represented over a thousand man years of effort and was a significant commitment of time and resources for our military commanders. Nevertheless, we understand your concerns about our ability to provide honors. We share this concern and acknowledge the challenge the future will bring.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of veterans' deaths will continue to increase. In 1989, we had approximately 456,000 veterans' deaths. In 1999, 10 years later, we are projecting 561,000 deaths, which is a 23 percent increase. And in 2008, there are an expected 620,000 veterans' deaths, a 36 percent increase
Mr. FILNER. You went beyond the year 2003?
Ms. BECRAFT. Yes, with information from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mr. FILNER. Did you get that from the budget processes?
Ms. BECRAFT. The data I am presenting are from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mr. FILNER. I am just making a comment
Ms. BECRAFT. I understand.
Mr. FILNER (continuing). Without the Chairman's permission. Thank you.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. BECRAFT. From 1989 to 2008, there will be a 36 percent increase in the amount of burials. This increase in veterans' deaths takes place concurrently with the downsizing of our military forces. With our smaller and busier force, it has become more difficult for the military services to provide all funeral honors that are requested. Thus, while we are committed to providing proper honors for our veterans, we must be concerned about the manpower impact of any policy changes.
At one end of the spectrum, if we provided traditional honors to all veterans who died in 1997, up to 30,000 man years of effort could have been required. While we don't expect that many requests, one of our missing data points is a more precise projection of what the demand for honors would be. We believe that a solution to this issue will require a joint effort on the Departmentwith the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, our stakeholders and, of course, the Congress as we examine the implications of any policy changes and identify potential solutions which result in an appropriate level of honors for all families who request them.
We have, therefore, been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs on a strategic plan that culminates in a joint summit to address this important concern. In preparation for the summit, we will meet with the veterans' service organizations and the military coalition to describe our resource environment and hear their views on how to accommodate the need for honors in that environment. We are also conducting those discussionsas we are doing this, we will also be engaged in an extensive data collection to determine more precisely the demand for future funeral honors and the degree to which they are provided as requested under the provision of our current policy.
Information from our exchanges with interested organizations and from our data-gathering initiative conducted over the next 6 months will provide the substance for our discussions of the summit to be held in the fall. The summit will examine issues, resources and options for the provision of military funeral support to veterans.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We envision that Members of Congress, as well as representatives from the veterans' service organizations, would assist in our deliberations; however, we are not waiting for the summit process. Right now, the military services are examining ways to improve the delivery of honors. For example, the Army has conducted an in-depth review of their capability to provide funeral honors. They are developing a plan that standardizes burial details, removes limitations on distances soldiers may travel to perform burial honors, and promotes local partnerships with reserve components and veterans' service organizations in conducting military funeral honors.
In their efforts to enhance the ability to perform honors, the Air Force is conducting a pilot program in California in a high-volume area for military funerals. The pilot program uses Guard and Reserve personnel who are placed on active duty to perform funeral honors. The funeral honors units composed of these Guard and Reserve forces conduct two to three funeral honors every day. As a result, the Air Force is able to respond to more funeral honor requests in a high-demand area.
And recently the Commandant of the Marine Corps issued a white letter and sent a message to all Marine units emphasizing the Marine Corps' commitment to funeral support and the importance of paying final tribute to one of its own.
We are carefully monitoring these initiatives and collecting data to determine their impact.
Mr. Chairman, we believe we have a plan and a process to address this very important issue. Through creative strategies, dialogue with the stakeholders and joint efforts, we believe that we can enhance respectful military recognition at funerals for those who have loyally served our country. I look forward to providing to you the results of our efforts.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
Ms. BECRAFT. Sure.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Ms. Becraft appears on p. 68.]
Mr. QUINN. I have just one quick question before we go to the rest of the table. I think we mentioned to you we were going to see if we could talk to you a bit about the situation with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Vietnam veterans. Can youwe have read in the paper recently that there might be a situation where we have to take a look at the remains of the soldier there. When we were touring Arlington National Cemetery last week, five or six members of the staff went over. I mentioned that this morning. We talked to Jack Metzler about that. Are you able this morning, from the Department of Defense, to give us any kind of update on that situation and when the Secretary may be making a decision?
Ms. BECRAFT. Mr. Chairman, I can't give you an exact time on that. The senior working group has made some recommendations, and they are right now working with all the various stakeholders, briefing them, getting their comments. These comments will be incorporated into their final recommendation before it goes to the Secretary. I am sorry I can't tell you an exact time when that will be.
Mr. QUINN. You don't know the time on that?
Ms. BECRAFT. No, I do not.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. That is great.
I yield to Mr. Filner for a question.
Mr. FILNER. A quick question, Ms. Becraft. I appreciate the report that you read. I had suggested in an earlier hearing, I guess tangentially to the subject matter, that one thing I think you are missing here, as you lay out this process and do your man years, and I assume women years also would be involved, that there is a tremendous amount of volunteer time available to you for these honors. In San Diego, we have a voluntary Honor Guard that does, in fact, make itself available to the services. They came to see me the other day and said, you know, if we could get just a small amount of money basically for blanks and for pressing the uniforms and for gas moneythat is what we are talking about. We are not getting into this great bureaucracy of putting people in the service and getting people out of the Reserves, we are just asking for a few bucks for a voluntary unit, and they could handle, in a high-demand area, a lot of the honors that are needed.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am just wondering if the Department would be looking to tap this volunteer force that I am sure is available all over the country?
Ms. BECRAFT. This is part of our plan for our summit. We need to go to all the stakeholders, look at all of the different ways that we can provide honors to our veterans. So we will be looking at that option, as well as many others, in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the veterans' services organizations and the whole array of interested parties.
Mr. FILNER. I understand, and I keep hearing that. I will tell you, out of your $250 billion budget, a few thousand dollars to San Diego would solve the problem. You don't have to go through all this bureaucracy, all these studies, all these man years, all this incredible amount of effort that I know a big bureaucracy always has to seem to go through. But I am telling you in one area of the country, if you gave me an account of $5,000, I would solve your problem, and you wouldn't have to go through all of this.
These are the 1990s, almost the new millenniumlook at new areas outside the box of some bureaucratic thinking to tap in some of thisI mean, there are veterans in our area, I am sure every area in the country, that deplore what has happened and are willing to volunteer their own time to solve it, and they just need a little support from us.
Ms. BECRAFT. Well, we must look at a whole range of options, and that is what we are committed to do. The number of burials, as you know, have increased
Mr. FILNER. All right. I give up. I am sorry.
Ms. BECRAFT (continuing). Extensively, and we will continue, and we will take that into consideration.
Mr. LAHOOD. [Presiding] If the Ranking Member wants to ask a question, you may, or we can let Mr. Rapp make his statement. However we want to proceed here, I will be flexible.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVANS. If I could ask one question, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LAHOOD. Please, proceed.
Mr. EVANS. Ma'am, are you aware of our colleague's, Steve Buyer's, legislation that I think he is going to offer in the Armed Services Committee markup next week concerning burials?
Ms. BECRAFT. I am aware that there is a House bill, yes.
Mr. EVANS. I think it may have changed. I don't have it in front of me. I didn't think to bring it.
Ms. BECRAFT. I have not seen the exact wording, no.
Mr. EVANS. I will try to obtain a copy and submit it to you. We would like to get your input as we move into markup next week on the armed services side.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Rapp, you may proceed.
STATEMENT OF ROGER R. RAPP
Mr. RAPP. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to share the status of operations and activities at the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery System. I have a brief oral statement that summarizes my full statement, which I submitted for the record.
Mr. LAHOOD. Without objection.
Mr. RAPP. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, I believe we have come a long way in the past 5 years. Last fall, we opened the Tahoma National Cemetery near Seattle. In the summer of 1999, cemeteries near Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Albany, NY, will open, and one near Cleveland should be well under construction. At all our open cemeteries with undeveloped acreage, we continue to expand burial space.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, last year, I visited approximately twenty open cemeteries. Expansion projects are either under way, just completed or scheduled to start at virtually all of them. We continue to build more and more columbaria; all new cemeteries have them, and many existing ones are getting them. We will continue to add this option at those sites where the demand for cremation is great and columbarium makes sense.
The President's fiscal year 1999 budget request includes $6 million each for Fort Rosecrans and Florida National Cemetery columbarium projects. The State Cemetery Grants Program is working very well. Many States have embraced this program. Veterans are well served by these State cemeteries in significantly-sized cities and States.
To illustrate, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Reno, Memphis, Nashville, Baltimore and Salt Lake, as well as the States of New Jersey and Delaware, are served by excellent State cemeteries. The new Wisconsin cemetery near Milwaukee, which will be dedicated next month, is an excellent example of a State opening up a cemetery when a national cemetery nearby closes.
Mr. Chairman, over the past year, there has been some concern about VA's policy regarding its role and the States' role in constructing new cemeteries. Most recently, in response to posthearing questions from the House Veterans' Affairs and the House Appropriations Committees, we clarified that we view the State cemetery program as a complement to, and not a replacement for, the National Cemetery System.
Building new national cemeteries is an integral part of our strategy to meet the burial needs of our Nation's veterans. Therefore, in each subsequent annual phase of strategic planning, VA will continue to evaluate the need to establish new national cemeteries based on veterans' demographics. I see this process renewed within the next few days as we develop our fiscal year 2000 budget submission, and I am committed to work with the Secretary and the rest of VA to introduce a plan that addresses these issues.
Hopefully, this clarification will assist this committee in its consideration of our legislative proposal to increase the Federal share of our State grants program from 50 to 100 percent.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, Mr. Chairman, I listened to GAO's testimony earlier today. Their report was completed last year, obviously prior to the clarification that I just summarized. VA agrees with much of this report and enjoyed the healthy interchange with GAO, but I would like to make two brief points. First, GAO has concerns that we are not doing long-term planning beyond our 5-year strategic plan. I believe we are doing long-term planning beyond that 5-year period.
Secondly, I believe that some of the inferences about columbarium may be misleading. I believe we should not lose sight that the casket burial option is the preferred choice of veterans as well as the American public and will remain that way for at least another 20 to 25 years. Until then, I believe casketed grave site production should be our major emphasis, with columbarium complementing that option.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to take questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rapp appears on p. 71.]
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Rapp, let me just ask you one other question on this matter that we were discussing earlier, and that is this: Do I have your commitmentI am going to ask the Secretary the same questionthat you intend to, by signage on at least the mainthe major thoroughfare, which I consider Interstate 55, by signage designate this new cemetery at Joliet the veterans' cemetery without designating the name of it?
Mr. RAPP. You have my commitment and I am willing to discuss it with Secretary West. I have a feeling you will be discussing it with him before I get a chance to.
Mr. LAHOOD. I am going to discuss it with him, too. But I don't want to be driving along Interstate 55 2 years from now and see a sign that says ''Abraham Lincoln Cemetery'' because a bunch of veterans' groups got to you before the politicians did. In my opinion, that is what happened here. A number of veterans' groups persuaded you of a name; in spite of the fact that every other cemetery in the entire country is named after a geographic area, you were persuaded by the fact that they didn't like that idea.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I don't want them then coming to you and saying, we want this name on Interstate 55. That, in my opinion, is going to confuse people, as I said earlier. But if I have your commitment that you are going to make sure that people are not going to be confused, then I am not going to ask you another question about this.
Mr. RAPP. You have my commitment, yes.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Filner.
Mr. FILNER. Welcome to your first hearing, Mr. Rapp.
Mr. RAPP. Actually, I have been to some other hearings, but it has been a while since this subcommittee has held one on the National Cemetery System.
Mr. FILNER. I guess this is what they call a rap session, huh?
I appreciate your response and your willingness to stand up and smile and fight back, but I was not convinced by your short statement at the end.
Clearly, there is a problem that we all foresee coming, and we do not see any plan for it. You said, well, the GAO says we are not doing long-range planning.
Mr. RAPP. We are.
Mr. FILNER. I think you need to show it to us. I am not sureyour statement, your written statement, said that the GPRA restricts your long-term planning. I think I agree with the statement that the GAO made that it does not. In fact, it is supposed to encourage and enhance long-range planning, and other agencies clearly do that.
If NASA was doing what you are doing, Senator Glenn wouldn't be Senator Glenn because he wouldn't have been up there circling the Earth before.
I would like to see, and I think this committee would like to see, some written notion of a strategic plan which tells us and gives us some confidence what you are doing to meet the burial needs of our veterans through the year 2010, roughly thereabouts. I think we would like to have this plan sometime before the fall so we can discuss it and assure our Nation's veterans that, in fact, long-range planning is taking place and these critical years are being thought about, because we have no evidencewe have only evidence to the contrary, that there is a planning process. And your statement, as submitted in writing, seems to indicate a disdain for and a reluctance to go further than the budget cycle allows.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I would hope we get something written in the next couple of months to give us some more confidence that we do have some long-range thinking going on.
Mr. RAPP. Within the framework that VA used to develop its strategic plan, burial benefits and services are one of ten business lines. It would be nice if we could separate ourselves from that broader departmental process, and I think we do need to work toward addressing the issues that GAO and this committee have raised. I look forward to working with the new Secretary on these issues and hopefully getting them into our plan. I think the best evidence of something would be to include in the next budget submission.
While earlier I did not want to disavow myself from the process in establishing a name for the Chicago area cemetery. I must discuss the broader VA planning process. I am basically the field operations person whose job it has been to build national cemeteries. I am an advocate of building national cemeteries. Within VA's planning on a budget framework, I participate with other VA officials and other authorities within the administration. I have a voice. I hope to have more of a say.
Our voice will be heard within the agency and in the plans that are we developed for the 2000 budget submission and the strategic plan. I agree with GAO that there are sites that have been identified that are not served by a veterans cemetery. We identified them. Most of the information you got from the previous panel we supplied to them as recently as yesterday. We identified those sites in our reports that are on record. I will say that there are large veteran populations in Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, Northern California, and Pittsburgh that I think need to be addressed. I am committed to getting these issues raised and hopefully included in a plan that would meet with everyone's approval.
Mr. FILNER. Well, I am not sure what you said, but I will accept it that you are going to do something about this.
But without being too personal, I hope Mr. Rapp and Ms. Becraft would look at the transcript of this testimony. You will see why citizens have problems dealing with bureaucracies. I mean, you are not talking in human terms or really common-sense English. You are giving us a lot of bureaucratic circular talk here. I didn't understand a word anybody said here in answer to that.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like a plan in a month. I did not hear that you were going to do that or not do it. I asked to look at volunteers, and all I get is we are going to look at the whole range of options, and we have to go through this planning process, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I mean, we are talking about some common-sense things that deal with people and what veterans think about their service to this country and how our country is responding to that service. And, frankly, we are getting a lot of circular talk and jargon here, and I think we should just have some common-sense discussions. And if you look at your transcripts, I think you will see why I am so frustrated.
Mr. LAHOOD. Mr. Rodriguez, welcome. Any questions?
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. No.
Mr. LAHOOD. Chairman Quinn had some questions, and I would like to submit them for the record and ask you to reply to Mr. Quinn and also to the full committee, if you would.
Mr. RAPP. We will.
(See p. 103.)
Mr. LAHOOD. Anything else?
Thank you for being here.
We have a third panel, but let me just say that as previously announced, I do have a meeting with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and he and I have been trying to get together for the last couple of days. What I would like to do is recessI don't think the meeting will take very longand then come back, and we will continue with the third panel.
I don't know of any other option, so I hope you will be tolerant of that and patient, and thank you for allowing us to do that.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are in recess until I return. Thank you.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LAHOOD. Yes, Mr. Rodriguez.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. I was just going to inquire, it seemed like I know you are real concerned in terms of the naming of that, and I was wondering if there was any other options that you might have. I would be willing to be supportive if you had any other creative options.
Mr. LAHOOD. I hope to discuss that with the Secretary.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Have you come up with some legislation of what you are going to name it, or whatever you think is appropriate?
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Thank you.
Mr. LAHOOD. We are in recess.
Mr. LAHOOD. Again, I apologize to those of you who cameI don't know if my microphone is on or not. Now it is on. The light is on anyway. I apologize for delaying you, and I am sure you thought you would be sitting at a lunch counter somewhere by now. But we appreciate very much your participating as part of the third panel.
What I would like to do is let each of you proceed with any opening statement that you would like, and, General Woerner, if you would like to go first, you are welcome to, or if you want to start at this end of the table. However you want to proceed, please.
STATEMENT OF GEN. FRED WOERNER, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION, ACCOMPANIED BY MAJOR GENERAL JOHN P. HERRLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.), SECRETARY, AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION; KENNETH S. POND, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION; COLONEL ANTHONY N. COREA, U.S. AIR FORCE, DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS AND FINANCE, AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION; AND COLONEL DALE F. MEANS, U.S. ARMY, DIRECTOR ENGINEERING AND MAINTENANCE, AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
General WOERNER. Thank you, sir. There will be only one statement. I will make that
Mr. LAHOOD. Very good.
General WOERNER (continuing). For the entire panel.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you very much.
General WOERNER. Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission, I am sincerely pleased to appear before you today. I begin by thanking you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of the subcommittee, for the support that you have provided our Commission over the years, and we seek your continuing support on the premise that the manner in which we care for our honored war dead measures the importance that as a Nation we give to all those who have worn or are wearing a uniform.
The care and maintenance of the facilities associated with the trust that has been placed upon us are quite labor-intensive. Personnel costs account for a full 64 percent of our budget in fiscal year 1999. This year, therefore, we are conducting a comprehensive manpower survey that will clearly define our manpower requirements for each of our cemeteries and allow us to ensure the proper sizing of our work force.
That said, it then becomes clear that only 36 percent of our budget remains to fund our operations: engineering, rent, maintenance, utilities, horticultural supplies, equipment and administrative costs.
We do not have the option of closing or consolidating any one of our 24 cemeteries or 27 memorials. In light thereof, we have increased our efforts to achieve greater efficiency through automation in the operational and financial management area. The Congress has been instrumental in our success in maintaining a high standard of excellence by providing the funds required to accomplish our objectives.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The added funding of $3 million in fiscal year 1998 for engineering and maintenance projects will allow us to reduce our backlog of essential projects, a problem that is becoming increasingly more acute since, as mentioned by the Chairman in his opening comments, our facilities are aging.
In 1996, Congress specifically directed, via Public Law 104275, that the American Battle Monuments Commission prepare agencywide financial statements annually, beginning with fiscal year 1997, and that the financial statements be audited in accordance with accepted government auditing standards.
I can now report to you that the General Accounting Office, as you heard in the first panel, has completed the first such audit. I am pleased to report that we received an unqualified opinion, or, in other words, a clean audit, on our balance sheet, which we understand is a very rare occurrence on initial financial statement audits.
Additionally, we have been identified as one of the first agencies in the executive branch to early comply with the fiscal year 1998 accounting standards prescribed by the Office of Management and Budget.
While we are pleased with the results of the audit, one material weakness has been highlighted, which we were aware of. It involves a financial management system that has grown like Topsy, with multiple systems being added upon other systems.
We have now entered into negotiation, and we can assure you that during fiscal year 1999 we will implementreplace all those old systems and implement a single new and integrated accounting system that will resolve this material deficiency.
The same legislation authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission to enter into agreements with the sponsors of war memorials to provide for their repair and long-term maintenance. At this time, we have established our internal operating procedures, including financial controls, and finalized our instructions to potential participants. We have recently sent guidance to three interested participants, the 30th Infantry Division of World War II, the 26th Infantry Division (the famed Yankee Division), and the National Guard Association. We believe that there are potentially 5 to 10 viable associations which will be interested in participating in this program.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to our overseas mission, we have been mandated by Congress to construct the World War II memorial. The Rainbow Pool site was dedicated in November 1995 by President Clinton. In January 1997, the President announced the winning design by Professor Friedrich St. Florian. Since that time, reviews by the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission have resulted in the requirement to modify the design to more appropriately fit the Rainbow Pool site. The modified design is almost complete, and we are confident that the modifications will meet the expectations of the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission when we appear before them in May and June of this year.
In summary, since 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission's cemeteries and memorials have been held to a high standard in order to reflect America's continuing commitment to its Honored War Dead, their families, and the U.S. national image. The Commission intends to continue to fulfill this noble trust while continuing efforts to improve overall management and operational efficiency. We ask for your continuing support.
Mr. Chairman, this completes my introductory remarks, and we are prepared to answer your questions.
[The prepared statement of General Woerner appears on p. 76.]
Mr. LAHOOD. Chairman Woerner, I have two questions. What is the biggest challenging facing ABMC?
General WOERNER. Can I have two?
Mr. LAHOOD. Of course.
General WOERNER. The first, sir, is our primary mission, that of maintaining facilities that are aging as costs go up. In addition, salaries increase, and we are obligated to follow Embassy lead, over which we have no control, since most of our work force are foreign nationals. So we have increasing costs due to increasing maintenance and salaries, without a fully commensurate increase in budget. However, I must say, we have done better than most agencies in straight-lining our budget, and Congress, this year (fiscal year 1998), increased our budget by $3 million. This Congressional aide is contributing to a significant reduction in our backlog of maintenance. That is our first challengeaging facilities, increased costs, without fully commensurate budgetary increases.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second major challenge is the World War II memorial. We unequivocally have the site. We now have a revised design and our preliminary coordination gives us confidence that it is going to be favorably received by the approving commissions in Washington. The challenge will then remain to raise $100 million to do the construction.
ww ii memorial fundraising
Mr. LAHOOD. Is that the onethe memorial that Senator Dole is chairing the fundraising?
General WOERNER. Yes, it is, sir. Senator Dole has consented and is already very active raising the monies, and he is co-chaired by Mr. Fred Smith of FedEx. They, together, through their combined efforts, have already brought in several millions of dollars.
Mr. LAHOOD. And their goal is $100 million?
General WOERNER. That is our goal, $100 million, sir.
wwii memorial construction and design
Mr. LAHOOD. Uh-huh. And is the raising of the moniesare they doing that first, before you begin the construction, or are youI mean, is it kind of simultaneous, or how does it work?
General WOERNER. First, by law, sir, we have to have the money in the bank.
Mr. LAHOOD. Okay.
General WOERNER. Before we can get the building permit.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAHOOD. Okay.
General WOERNER. We have been challenged thus far by trying to raise money without having a final approved design. We hope that that problem is resolved in our May and June hearings, and we will then be able to say to potential contributors, here is what you are contributing to. We would then expect to see an exponential increase in the flow of monies.
wwii memorial fundraising and groundbreaking
Mr. LAHOOD. What is your notion of when the fundraising might be; are they saying 2 years, 3 years?
General WOERNER. We would hope less than that, sir.
Mr. LAHOOD. Okay.
General WOERNER. Less than 2 years.
Mr. LAHOOD. Less than 2 years.
General WOERNER. We would like to break ground, meaning we have money in the bank, no later than on Veterans' Day in the year 2000.
ww ii memorial revised design
Mr. LAHOOD. I see. And the design has not been completed, I take it, or it has been?
General WOERNER. We had a completed design and went before the commissions-National Capital Planning and Fine Arts. They gave us their input. We are now in the very final stages of incorporating their input. In fact, the models are being built, and we are laying the groundwork to appear formally before them in May and June.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAHOOD. So when do you think you might unveil the design? Soon?
General WOERNER. Yes, sir.
Mr. LAHOOD. This year?
General WOERNER. Oh, definitely. I would say early summer.
General HERRLING. 11 May.
General WOERNER. There it is. We have a date.
General HERRLING. 11 May.
Mr. LAHOOD. You are going to unveil 11 May?
General HERRLING. We will. We will have a press conference that will cover the redesign concept for the memorial, and we plan on doing that either on the 11th or 12th of May.
integrated accounting system
Mr. LAHOOD. Colonel Corea, did I pronounce that correctly?
Colonel COREA. Yes, you did, sir.
Mr. LAHOOD. I am told that you are really helping to get financial systems in order and financial, I guess, procedures and mechanisms and all that. Tell us how that is going.
Colonel COREA. Okay, sir. As has already been indicated by the Chairman's opening comments and by the statement of the GAO witness, we have been on track in coming up with an integrated financial system now for just over one year. The Congress gave us the first increment of money to allow us to do that, this year (fiscal year 1998). We started even before you gave us some money by asking the Financial Management Services Center of the Treasury, to help us to analyze the systems that are out there.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As you recognize, we are a small agency, and there are 8 or 10 software systems which we can choose from that GAO, OMB, and Treasury have already approved for government use. So we will choose one of these ''commercial off-the-shelf'' systems.
At the present time we are receiving comments from the companies, and after we have looked at the comments, we will decide whether we are going to contract for the system, or also whether we might consider cross-servicing. In cross-servicing we would be asking Treasury or Commerce or one of the other big departments to help us with that. Our expectation is to have that system in place by the beginning of next year, fiscal year 1999, 6 months from now. That will give us one accounting system.
OMB, Treasury, and GAO, actually prescribed the accounting rules that we have to comply with in the Federal Government, and with those rules we have to have one integrated system. We will implement that system in our Washington office, as well as our offices in Rome, Paris and, Manila. We are heading in that direction.
We have had great success with the audit. Your committee, in 1996, prescribed that we have annual financial audits. Our initial thought was that we wanted to get the integrated accounting system in place before the audit. In the end, we are probably much better off by having started the audits, as we have standardized our financial records. We have, as the Chairman said, had a ''clean audit'' this year. Everything is now the way it really should be, so when we go into a new system, we are going to be ahead of the curve because will not be dealing with old financial data and old financial problems. So we are making very good progress with this.
Mr. LAHOOD. We appreciate the good professional work you are doing on this.
Colonel COREA. Thank you, sir.
privately sponsored memorials
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Mr. LAHOOD. Chairman Woerner, one final question. Have you taken custody of any private memorial since we changed the law last year?
Colonel MEANS. For the record, I am Colonel Means, the Director of Engineering and Maintenance.
Mr. LAHOOD. Yes, sir.
Colonel MEANS. We have responded to three associations that have asked us to look at taking over their memorials or monuments. We are awaiting their response at this point in time. As already stated, there are perhaps 5 to 10 other associations that would be interested in pursuing this, and we have been working on identifying them, and we will be dispatching invitations to them as well, sir.
Mr. LAHOOD. We thank you all for being here and for the good work you are doing and look forward to being a part of the next design unveiling and the memorial and all the other things you are involved with. Thank you all for being here.
General WOERNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. LAHOOD. Thank you to the staff for all your good work. We are adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:05 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]