- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014

President Obama on Monday officially tapped the former leader of Procter & Gamble to take over the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs.

Robert McDonald served for five years as an Army officer before a 30-plus year career at Procter & Gamble, leading the company from 2009 to 2013, according to his company biography. Mr. Obama said his business background at such a large company makes him qualified to handle the 340,000-employee bureaucracy at the department.

“He knows the key to any successful enterprise is staying focused on the people you’re trying to serve,” Mr. Obama said. “He understands that grand plans are not enough, what matters are the operations you put in place and getting the job done. Bob is an expert at making organizations better.”

The president asked the Senate, who is on a week-long break for the Fourth of July, to confirm Mr. McDonald as soon as possible.

Several investigations at the VA have found systemic problems of employees cooking the books to make wait times appear shorter, securing bonuses for themselves while denying veterans timely care. Reports showed more than 57,000 veterans across the healthcare system have been waiting more than 90 days for an appointment, after the initial discovery of 1,700 vets on a secret wait list in Phoenix VA earlier this year launched the widespread investigation.

Mr. McDonald said he would work to put veterans at the center of every action at the VA, just as he always put the needs of the customer first as a leader of Procter & Gamble, which owns brands such as Dawn dish soap and Pampers diapers.

“You’ve made it clear what you expect: a VA that is more effective, more efficient and truly puts our veterans first,” Mr. McDonald said. “If confirmed by the Senate, my priority would be to lead that transformation. My life’s purpose has been to improve the lives of others.”

The president said more than 135,000 veterans have been contacted to set up an appointment as soon as possible and get them off the lengthy wait lists. He also said the goal to schedule an appointment in 14 days, which was linked to bonuses, has been removed so there’s “absolutely no incentive to engage in inappropriate behavior. Providing the highest quality care when our veterans need it, that’s your incentive.”

Mr. Obama said some VA employees responsible for manipulating data had already been relieved and others were still under investigation.

“Where we find misconduct, it will be punished,” he said.

The top lawmakers on veterans issues in Congress said ahead of the official announcement that they hoped Mr. McDonald would stray from the status quo, taking a new approach to increase accountability and improve care for veterans.

“The only way McDonald can set the department up for long term success is to take the opposite approach of some other VA senior leaders,” Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement Sunday. “That means focusing on solving problems instead of downplaying or hiding them, holding employees accountable for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans, and understanding that taxpayer funded organizations such as VA have a responsibility to provide information to Congress and the public rather than stonewalling them.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. McDonald would replace Acting Secretary Sloan Gibson, who took over when Eric Shinseki resigned at the end of May amid the growing scandal.

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