STATEMENT OF KATHERINE STEVENSON,
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES,NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DISABILITY ASSISTANCE & MEMORIAL AFFAIRS
OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS,
FOR THE OVERSIGHT HEARING ENTITLED
"HONORING THE FALLEN: HOW CAN WE BETTER
SERVE AMERICA'S VETERANS AND THEIR FAMILIES?"
September 24, 2009
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate your invitation to appear at this hearing on honoring fallen veterans to discuss the national cemeteries that are administered by the National Park Service. We consider it a great honor to serve our veterans and their families at these national cemeteries and we are committed to ensuring that our cemeteries are maintained at a standard worthy of those who fought for our county.We are particularly pleased to have the opportunity to inform the subcommittee about the work we have done to improve the condition of the cemeteries under our stewardship since we last testified before you on this subject on May 8, 2007.
Background on National Park Service Cemeteries
The National Park Service (NPS) administers 14 of our nation's national cemeteries.With the exception of
Many of the Civil War national cemeteries, established soon after the war ended, were located at or near the battlefield itself.In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Civil War veterans and their families began to pay tribute to their fallen comrades by erecting monuments and memorials.Beginning in 1933, jurisdiction over many of these national battlefields, national historic sites, and national military parks, including the monuments, memorials and national cemeteries, was transferred to the NPS.The NPS manages these sites respectfully, interpreting military campaigns, conflicts, and ordeals that the soldiers endured.These sites, including the national cemeteries, are visited by thousands of people each year who learn of the veterans' sacrifices and want to pay their respects to these veterans. Visitors are provided interpretive information about the cemeteries themselves.At
Two of the national cemeteries administered by the National Park Service remain open to veterans for burial.They are
Operation of National Cemeteries
The NPS follows the same rules and regulations for burials at its national cemeteries that apply to cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).The NPS also follows the M40 series of manuals written by VA's National Cemetery Administration (NCA) for operation of national cemeteries.NPS orders headstones from the same facilities that produce headstones for NCA-managed cemeteries, adheres to standards for placement and alignment of stones, and replaces headstones that need second inscriptions for spouses.
Cemetery Care Practices
Recent concerns have been expressed regarding the appearance of the national cemeteries managed by the NPS.The NPS takes pride in serving as a guardian of the nation's historic treasures, including its national cemeteries.Because these cemeteries are part of the historic fabric of the park units, certain maintenance practices are different from those used by the NCA.
For example, the NPS places a high value on maintaining the historic appearance of the national cemeteries, including retaining as many original headstones as possible, particularly the more historic headstones. Consequently, NPS realigns stones less frequently than NCA, and does it by hand, rather than machine, in order to avoid damaging the stones.NPS also cleans headstones using a pressure washer, rather than bleaching chemicals, in order to better preserve the lettering and the surface of the stone.This may result in headstones that are greyer than headstones maintained by VA but it also results in the long-term preservation of the headstones.In addition, NPS normally replaces dead trees to maintain the historic landscape.Therefore, NPS cemeteries have more tree cover than other national cemeteries.Shade encourages microbial growth on headstones and makes it hard for grass to grow.Tree roots also make it harder to maintain headstone alignment.
Because of our expertise in preservation, others, including federal agencies such as the NCA, have turned to the NPS's
Investments in Cemetery Care
The NPS continues to invest in our national cemeteries.Since the NPS testimony two years ago, at which time we reported that over $1 million in project funds had been spent in the prior 5 years on cemetery repair projects, project funds for national cemeteries have increased dramatically. In FY 2008 and FY 2009, NPS has invested about $4.5 million in cemetery repair projects in addition to funding for routine maintenance.This figure includes $1.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.These projects include replacing and aligning historic headstones, storm cleanup, repairing and repointing historic walls that surround our cemeteries, removing hazardous trees, and repairing structures.Another $1.9 million in supplemental emergency storm and flood relief funding is being spent on the visitor center that serves
In addition to these projects, each unit of the National Park Service with a national cemetery also has maintenance staff who dedicate at least part of their time to maintaining headstones and grounds.Operating budgets for every one of these parks have increased in each of the last two fiscal years.
As discussed above, NPS also invests in cemetery maintenance by providing training in this area to interested persons and agencies.In addition, some NPS employees have taken courses at the
Review of National Park Service Cemeteries
The NPS is in the process of completing a review of the care of its national cemeteries.In July, a team of NPS experts made site visits to the cemeteries at Andersonville, Andrew Johnson,
The NPS is committed to ensuring that our national cemeteries appropriately honor those who have fought for our country.We will continue to work with the VA on these issues.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks.I would be happy to answer any questions members of the committee may have.