The Veterans Affairs Department has a new secretary, with senators voting 97-0 Tuesday to confirm Robert McDonald.
The strong bipartisan support for the former Procter & Gamble CEO is hardly a surprise. Senators from both sides of the aisle lavished praise on the nominee throughout his confirmation process.
“I am confident that Bob McDonald will be an outstanding secretary,” said Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a frequent critic of the department, on Tuesday.
But while McDonald enjoyed a smooth confirmation process, he is taking over a department rocked by scandal in recent months. Lawmakers have high hopes that he’ll be able to use his private-sector managerial experience to turn the VA around, and they have a long list of places for him to start.
Senators expect McDonald to overhaul the department by fixing a “corrosive culture,” ensuring veterans get timely access to care, and making progress on a myriad of other issues””including cutting pay and pension claims and reducing veterans’ homelessness.
The vote comes as Congress is expected to pass legislation this week that would improve veterans’ access to private health care, allow the VA to lease more facilities, and make it easier to fire staffers.
Lawmakers hope the bill””which a conference committee signed off on Monday night””will, as Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said, give McDonald “the tools to create a well-run and accountable VA.”
McDonald outlined his priorities for senators last week, including traveling the country to meet with VA employees and veterans. He also plans to restructure metrics for employees’ evaluations. Veterans-service organizations and lawmakers have long questioned whether linking performance metrics to bonuses could encourage data manipulation.
But it’s unlikely the scandal that forced Gen. Eric Shinseki’s resignation in late May will go away just because the VA has a new top official. A slate of investigations from the VA Office of Inspector General aren’t expected to wrap up until mid-August.
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Tuesday that while he has been impressed by McDonald, he knows “that a change in the leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs in and of itself isn’t enough to solve the problems veterans are facing.”
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Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
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