VINCENT L. BARILE
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT
NATIONAL CEMETERY ADMINISTRATION
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,
RECREATION, AND PUBLIC LANDS
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
December 13, 2001
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today regarding H.R. 2748, also known as the "National War Permanent Tribute Historical Database Act." This bill, if enacted, would "authorize the establishment of a national database for purposes of identifying, locating, and cataloging the many memorials and permanent tributes to America's veterans."
The Department of Veterans Affairs' ( VA) mission is "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan." These words, spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address, form the basis for the Department's existence. In today's environment, President Lincoln's statement reflects VA's responsibility to serve America's veterans and their families with respect and compassion, and to be their principal advocate in promoting the health, welfare, and dignity of all veterans in recognition of their service to our Nation. In fulfillment of these responsibilities, VA's focus is on provision of direct beneficiary services, not performance of historical research and archival functions.
VAis organized into three main administrations: the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration ( NCA). My organization, NCA, is responsible for meeting the burial needs of our Nation's veterans. We operate and maintain 120 national cemeteries across the country-we consider these our "national shrines." In fiscal year 2001, we maintained over 2.4 million gravesites of veterans and their dependents. This number continues to grow. In fiscal year 2001, we performed over 84,000 burials of both casketed and cremated remains. NCA is also responsible for administering the headstone and marker program-we provided over 300,000 headstones and markers in fiscal year 2001. Our country is now losing our World War II and Korean War veterans at an increasing rate-we lost an estimated 663,000 veterans in fiscal year 2001. In the next couple of years, we expect the death rate to peak, which means 1,800 veterans will die each day. We need to stay focused on how we can continue to meet the burial needs of our veterans today and in the future.
H.R. 2748 would require VA to expand its mission to include establishing and maintaining a database of permanent memorials located worldwide commemorating military conflicts of the United States or the service and sacrifice of any United States Armed Forces veteran. The database would provide information on the location, history, and background of each memorial. The database would be accessible to the public through the Department's Internet website in a format that would permit the public to submit information on war memorials for the purpose of updating and expanding the database. The proposed legislation would also authorize a one-time appropriation of $3.2 million to implement the worldwide database project. For the following reasons, VA cannot support enactment of H.R. 2748.
Based on our research, the database contemplated by H.R. 2748 would tend to duplicate resources already available, and the need for such an additional database has not been demonstrated. Certain Federal agencies and numerous private organizations already maintain publicly accessible Internet databases that provide information about national war memorials. Two Federal entities, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Smithsonian) with its partner Heritage Preservation, Inc., a private non-profit, and the National Park Service, already have active databases containing thousands of national war memorial and monument entries. The Smithsonian maintains a database located on the Internet at www.siris.si.edu as part of its Save Outdoor Sculpture! project. Over 32,000 sculptures and monuments are listed, of which over 4,000 entries relate to veterans. Information on these war memorials can be accessed by using a variety of search terms under the "Art Inventories" link located on the Smithsonian home page. The National Park Service has also catalogued thousands of structures, memorials, markers, and plaques located on national park lands that are associated with wars and military history. The National Park Service maintains several searchable databases on its Internet homepage "Park Net" at www.nps.gov, under the icon "Links to the Past," including databases for the National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Landmarks, Historic Buildings & Structures, and Military History.
If the contemplated database were to be created, neither VA nor NCA-the VA component that would most likely be responsible for the project-would be equipped to administer it. The creation, oversight, and management of a worldwide inventory of American war memorials would exceed the current mission and capabilities of VA, which primarily involve administration of quality health care to veterans; provision of monetary assistance to disabled veterans and their families, dependents, and survivors; and operation of the national cemeteries. VA lacks the infrastructure and staff that would be necessary to develop and maintain the contemplated database. Alternatively, VA could provide information on its cemeteries and war memorials under its jurisdiction through another entity that maintains a publicly available database. For example, if a website were created to consolidate historical information on war memorials, VA could share historical information and data on structures located in all of its 120 cemeteries.
The proposed legislation anticipates that VA may contract with a private nonprofit corporation, Remembering Veterans Who Earned Their Stripes (RVETS), which has already developed a working database of war memorials, for information or services to assist in the development and implementation of the database. VA's policy on information technology is that only data that has been verified by VA may be displayed on a VA website. Thus, any information obtained from RVETS would have to be independently verified by VA before it could be used. Further, although the proposed legislation refers to RVETS by name as a potential contractor, any project outsourced to a private entity, the cost of which exceeds $1 million, must be approved by VA's Capital Investment Proposal process and would be subject to Government contracting procedures.
VA cannot accurately estimate the cost of this project, since the number of memorials that would be inventoried is not known. However, maintaining and updating the database would be an ongoing project the cost of which could not be covered by a one-time appropriation.
Our veterans have fought and paid for our Nation's freedom and independence. We all owe them a great deal, and we should honor their memories. It is important, though, to remember that VA's primary mission is to meet the medical, benefits, and burial needs of our veterans, and their dependents and survivors.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you or the members of the Subcommittee may have.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - 810 Vermont Avenue, NW - Washington, DC 20420
Reviewed/Updated Date: November 10, 2009