McDon­ald faces steep learn­ing curve in run­ning trou­bled VA, in­sid­ers say

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Vir­gil Dick­son

Robert McDon­ald, newly nom­i­nated to be­come the next sec­re­tary of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, will likely face lit­tle re­sis­tance to his con­fir­ma­tion, de­spite his limited mil­i­tary and govern­ment agency ex­pe­ri­ence, vet­eran and po­lit­i­cal in­sid­ers say.

How­ever, some have con­cerns that once he joins the VA, he may strug­gle to over­come the bu­reau­cratic hur­dles he likely will face as he seeks to make mean­ing­ful changes at the agency. Tak­ing dis­ci­plinary ac­tions and pos­si­bly dis­miss­ing in­ef­fec­tive per­son­nel could prove much more chal­leng­ing in a govern­ment agency en­vi­ron­ment than in the pri­vate sec­tor, they noted.

McDon­ald is the for­mer CEO of Proc­ter & Gam­ble, where he over­saw more than 120,000 em­ploy­ees, with op­er­a­tions around the world, sell­ing prod­ucts in more than 180 coun­tries.

The learn­ing curve McDon­ald must tackle as he shifts to pub­lic-sec­tor life re­minded Gail Wilen­sky—ad­min­is­tra­tor of the pre­de­ces­sor agency to the CMS un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush—of one con­gress­men who in­cred­u­lously asked her dur­ing a hear­ing how com­pli­cated it could be to run a federal agency. The law­maker had pre­vi­ously run a ma­jor busi­ness en­ter­prise.

“In the pri­vate sec­tor, you don’t have em­ploy­ees that are sub­ject to civil ser­vice pro­tec­tions and a board of di­rec­tors made up of 435 mem­bers of Congress that have over­sight over your ac­tions,” Wilen­sky said.

How­ever, even though McDon­ald may not be able to deal as swiftly with un­der­per­form­ing em­ploy­ees as he might have in the pri­vate sec­tor, that shouldn’t stop him from go­ing in on Day One and tak­ing charge, other ob­servers say.

“He needs to as­sem­ble all of the toplevel man­agers and say, ‘This is the new boss in town and the usual is over,’ ” said Dou­glas Smith, a for­mer as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for the pri­vate sec­tor at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “‘You can ei­ther be with me or against me, and if it’s the lat­ter, feel free to sit in your of­fice and we will work around you.’ ”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is lob­by­ing hard for a quick con­fir­ma­tion. The next Se­nate ses­sion is sched­uled from July 7 to Aug. 1, so hear­ings on his con­fir­ma­tion will likely be­gin shortly.

McDon­ald’s limited mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially com­pared to his pre­de­ces­sor Eric Shin­seki, a re­tired gen­eral with nearly 40 years of ac­tive ser­vice, is not viewed by many as detri­men­tal in de­ter­min­ing if he is a good choice for the post. McDon­ald is a West Point grad­u­ate and served in the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion. His fa­ther served in the Army Air Corps af­ter World War II, and his un­cle-in-law was ex­posed to Agent Or­ange in Viet­nam and still re­ceives treat­ment from the VA.

Nev­er­the­less, vet­er­ans’ groups have had mixed re­ac­tions to some of McDon­ald’s more arm’s-length ties to the ser­vice com­mu­nity.

“He’s been away from the mil­i­tary for quite a while, and will have to move quickly to show he is com­mit­ted to and un­der­stands the post-9/11 gen­er­a­tion of vet­er­ans,” Paul Rieck­hoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica, said in a state­ment. Oth­ers had a more pos­i­tive out­look. “Some of the strong­est ad­vo­cates for vet­er­ans in Congress are not vets,” said Joe Davis, pub­lic af­fairs di­rec­tor for Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars. “What’s more im­por­tant is that he cares about vet­er­ans.”

Po­lit­i­cal pun­dits agreed. “I do not think the limited mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence is a bad thing,” said Mike DuHaime, a Repub­li­can strate­gist who pre­vi­ously over­saw cam­paigns for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and for­mer New York City Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani. “On the con­trary, per­haps it is a good thing to have a fresh per­spec­tive. His busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence will be very valu­able and is akin to run­ning a large agency.”

“I think the is­sues fac­ing the VA right now are more chal­lenges of man­age­ment and ef­fec­tive ex­e­cu­tion,” said Dr. Scott Got­tlieb, a for­mer deputy com­mis­sioner at the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and a res­i­dent fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “Bring­ing in some­one who has strong man­age­ment chops seems to be very good judg­ment.”

Some key law­mak­ers have kept their cards close to the vest re­gard­ing how they feel about the nom­i­na­tion. Sens. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chair and rank­ing mem­ber of the Se­nate Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said they would first need to meet with McDon­ald be­fore they made up their minds. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said they are hope­ful for a quick con­fir­ma­tion.

As­sum­ing he’s ap­proved, McDon­ald’s first pri­or­ity should be to clearly out­line a com­pre­hen­sive list of prob­lems that are cur­rently be­ing ad­dressed at the VA, as well as progress be­ing made to rem­edy them, said Joe Vi­olante, na­tional leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor for the group Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans. He also needs to be will­ing to lobby Congress if additional re­sources are needed, Vi­olante said.

McDon­ald should push for an en­vi­ron­ment in which VA em­ploy­ees feel they are be­ing heard, said Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a re­tired Army colonel and chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer in the District of Columbia’s Depart­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health.

VA sec­re­tary nom­i­nee Robert McDon­ald

is the for­mer CEO of Proc­ter & Gam­ble.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.