President Obama on Monday will nominate Bob McDonald to lead the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, a senior White House official has confirmed. The previous VA secretary, former Gen. Eric Shinseki, resigned last May in the wake of allegations of incompetence over his handling of the broken health care system.
McDonald, who graduated from West Point in the top 2% of his class, is the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest consumer goods company with over 120,000 employees and more than $84 billion in revenue in 2013. As a former CEO, McDonald’s background as VA secretary would mark a major departure from previous department heads, which in recent years have included former generals, a surgeon general, and politicians.
But McDonald also has deep military roots. After graduating from West Point, McDonald served in the U.S. Army for five years, achieving the rank of Captain in the 82nd Airborne. His father also served in the Army Air Corps after World War II.
McDonald’s arrival would come at a difficult time for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency has been beset by “significant and chronic system failures,” according to a review ordered by President Obama and released Friday. The review confirmed allegations that some VA employees had manipulated wait times for veterans’ medical appointments to make them appear shorter. A previous report by a federal watchdog group found nine examples of substandard practices at the VA, including improper scheduling and falsifying patient records.
The scandal will prove a major challenge for McDonald, who will replace current acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, if confirmed by the Senate.
McDonald, 61, retired from P&G in 2013 after 33 years with the company, reportedly under pressure from investors who claimed he failed to expand the business fast enough in the face of global competition. But he has also been praised as CEO for his handling of the Great Recession, during which P&G added 1 billion customers and increased its stock price 60% under his leadership. McDonald has been described by his peers as a ”master at complex operations” – a skill set that would serve him well at the head of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs agency, which services more than eight million veterans a year.
The announcement of McDonald’s nomination was met with a muted response in Washington.
“The VA needs significantly improved transparency and accountability and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff so that all eligible veterans get high-quality health care in a timely manner,” Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement Sunday. “I look forward to meeting with Mr. McDonald next week in order to ascertain his views on these important issues.”
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued a similarly cautious statement. ”If confirmed by the Senate, Robert McDonald will inherit a Department of Veterans Affairs under a specter of corruption that may very well surpass anything in the history of American government,” it said. “Quite simply, those who created the VA scandal will need to be purged from the system. Personnel changes, however, won’t be enough.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took a different tack Sunday evening, hailing McDonald as a “good man, a veteran, and a strong leader with decades of experience in the private sector,” while taking the opportunity to knock Obama for his handling of the crisis. “[McDonald]’s the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA,” Boehner said in a statement. “But the next VA secretary can only succeed in implementing that type of change if his boss, the president, first commits to doing whatever it takes to give our veterans the world class health care system they deserve by articulating a vision for sweeping reform.”