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Historic Arlington Cemetery Gets Digital Makeover

Digital mapping system, gravesite database, and other tools should improve accountability and management, Army's cemeteries director says.

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Arlington National Cemetery is going through a digital transformation to clear up years of mismanagement due to a lack of adequate IT and other infrastructure, the Department of Defense's (DoD's) cemeteries program director said last week.

The historic cemetery, by this summer, should have a single database for of all of its gravesites; a new geospatial mapping system; and a central, electronic scheduling system to provide better management of the facility and more accountability for its managers, said Kathryn Condon, executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program for the DoD.

Condon revealed the changes in testimony last week, before the House Veterans Affairs Committee's disability assistance and memorial affairs subcommittee, about efforts to improve historically poor management at Arlington.

A year-long inventory of all the graves in the cemetery--mandated by Congress after an Army investigation turned up numerous problems--identified a variety of issues with nearly 65,000 gravesites, ranging from mismarked graves to typographical errors in paper records, according to a report released in December.

[ Agencies face tough issues as they hurry to put smartphones and tablets into more employees' hands. See 5 Keys To U.S. National Mobility Strategy. ]

The paper-based management and inventory system is now being replaced by a new database and applications, Condon said. The update falls under the umbrella of an enterprise architecture and technology acquisition roadmap that's new to Arlington, which is managed as part of a broader cemeteries program that suffers from "long ignored, antiquated, and inefficient infrastructure," she told Congress.

The new database will make it possible for Arlington Cemetery to be "more accurate, accountable, and efficient in conducting our operations," Condon said.

The new database will be linked to a geographic information system (GIS) for mapping that includes a custom-built smartphone application that was used to photograph 259,978 sites to match photos with existing records.

So far 84% of Arlington's gravesites have been validated and the remaining 16% will be complete by summer. Once they are complete, the cemetery will have a single, electronic map for the entire facility. "As our digital accountability database is completed and integrated with the GIS system, we will have the capability to better identify and understand trends, obstacles, and other ways to more effectively and efficiently conduct our mission," Condon said.

The cemetery should also have public-facing GIS applications so people visiting the cemetery can use the map by this summer, she added. The applications will be accessible from the Web, smartphones, and onsite kiosks and allow users to locate gravesites and other important cemetery landmarks, generate photos of a gravesite marker that show both its front and back, as well as receive directions to a cemetery site.

The cemetery also is also testing a new headstone-formatting tool that will allow families to review and approve headstone markers remotely on a password-protected Army National Cemeteries Program site. Once testing is complete, Arlington will begin using the tool at the cemetery to help ensure graves are correctly marked from the outset.

As federal agencies embrace devices and apps to meet employee demand, the White House seeks one comprehensive mobile strategy. Also in the new Going Mobile issue of InformationWeek Government: Find out how the National Security Agency is developing technologies to make commercial devices suitable for intelligence work. (Free registration required.)

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