President Barack Obama on Monday sought to turn the page on a humiliating chapter in the history of the Veterans Affairs Department, tapping former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald to take over the sprawling agency.
A former Army captain, McDonald would bring a blend of corporate and military experience to a bureaucracy reeling from revelations of chronic, system-wide failure and veterans dying while on long waiting lists for treatment. His selection reflects Obama’s desire to put a tested manager in charge as the White House calls for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the VA.
“What especially makes Bob the right choice to lead the VA right now is his three decades of experience building and managing one of the world’s most recognizable companies,” Obama said at VA headquarters. “In short, he’s about delivering better results.”
McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, framed his new task in the context of his corporate experience. Joined by his wife and family for the announcement, McDonald, 61, said he planned to put veterans at the center of everything the VA does — a bureaucratic twist on the old adage that the customer is always right.
“At the VA, the veteran is our customer, and we must all focus all day every day on getting them the benefits and the care that they have so earned,” McDonald said. “That’s the only reason we are here.”
Contending that the VA scandal has “outraged us all,” Obama said he’s already moved to fire some of those responsible for falsifying patient records or tolerating the whitewashing, and may punish additional workers as the investigation continues. He called on the Senate to confirm McDonald quickly and reiterated his call for Congress to grant the VA secretary more authority to fire senior leaders if necessary.
“This is not going to be an easy assignment. Bob knows that,” Obama said. “We’ve got to change the way the VA does business.”
McDonald’s selection came as a surprise to veterans groups, who said his name hadn’t been on anyone’s list of likely candidates. Unlike Shinseki, a retired four-star general, McDonald has spent most of his career in the private sector.
“We think he does have the skillset,” said Tom Tarantino of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “He has excellent branding background, which is helpful because there really isn’t an organization that has a worse brand or reputation right now than the VA.”