- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Angry lawmakers on Wednesday sharply questioned the Army on its confusion over the location of some veterans’ remains at Arlington National Cemetery, as service officials described what they called the “laborious” process of ensuring every grave was properly identified.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, called for a “100 percent survey” of the cemetery and its operations in the wake of the scandal.

“I’m angry, period,” said Mr. Skelton in opening Wednesday’s hearing.

“How in the world could this tragedy be allowed to happen?” he asked the two witnesses, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Inspector General Lt. Gen. Steven Whitcomb.

Last month, an internal investigation led by Gen. Whitcomb concluded there were at least 211 discrepancies between burial maps and grave sites. The review found lax management of the cemetery, where employees relied on paper records to manage the dozens of burials each week and maintain thousands of existing grave sites.

In his testimony, Mr. McHugh described the cemetery as operating largely independently from the rest of the Army, with little oversight.

Mr. McHugh said that 27 of the 211 discrepancies discovered have been sorted out since the findings were released three weeks ago. He warned lawmakers that the process was labor-intensive and would take time.

The Army has taken 867 phone calls from the public on the issue and resolved about 169 of those, he said.

“The Army is doing and will continue to do all that is necessary and possible to right these unimaginable, unacceptable wrongs,” Mr. McHugh told the panel.

Lawmakers questioned whether the Army should be stripped of its responsibility for operating the cemetery. Mr. McHugh said that decision should be up to the president and the Congress, but that he thought maintaining the historic graveyard was the Army’s job.

“We feel it is the responsibility of the military, particularly in time of war, to carry those heroes to their final resting place,” said Mr. McHugh, a former Republican congressman appointed to the seat by President Obama last year.

Iowa Democratic Rep. Leonard L. Boswell said he thought Mr. McHugh struck the right conciliatory tone in the wake of the upsetting findings.

“We’ll fix this,” Mr. Boswell told Mr. McHugh.