- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on Tuesday said they were confident VA secretary nominee Robert McDonald would be confirmed, noting that his background as both a member of the military and as a top CEO made him uniquely qualified to lead the department.

While no one questioned Mr. McDonald was the right man for the job during a confirmation hearing Tuesday, some senators wondered why Mr. McDonald would even consider taking this job at a time when a new disaster is seemingly uncovered every week at the VA.

“It’s hard to imagine why someone would take this job,” said Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “It’s good to know we have someone who thinks so much about this country and the next generation and the next generation.”

Mr. McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, said he has devoted his life to serving the country and promised to always “choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong” — a lesson he learned as a cadet at West Point.

“My life’s purpose has been to improve the lives of others,” he said. “My values are steeped in my experiences at West Point and in the military. Those values are what allowed me to be an effective leader at Procter & Gamble — and those values are what I will bring to the management of the VA.”

The former Army officer, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, went on to say his entire career prepared him to lead the department and he could think of “no higher calling” than to serve veterans.

“I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference,” he said. “If not me, who?”

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is expected to vote on Wednesday to send the nomination to the full Senate.

Mr. McDonald brings to us two very important qualities. No. 1 is he is familiar with the military because he served in the military for many years and he brings with that service a passion to take care of our veterans,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The other quality he brings is he’s been a CEO of one of the major American corporations.”

Lawmakers questioned him on how he would handle a variety of topics from the current wait time scandal to broader issues like doctor shortages, veteran homelessness and care for rural vets. One of the biggest challenges, however, will be changing the culture of a department where investigations found whistleblower retaliation and wait time data manipulation.

“You must usher in a new culture throughout VA. Employees at all levels must be willing to proactively identify and address problems in every corner of this vast department,” Mr. Burr said. “We need a culture where warning signs will not be ignored.”

Several senators also asked the future secretary to promise to be more forthcoming with information and cooperative with the committee’s oversight unlike past leaders of the department. In response, Mr. McDonald said he expected to be on call 24/7, just as he was as a CEO.

“Every member of the committee will have my cellphone number, and I would expect if we’re not meeting your expectations, you would call me,” he said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, said he has no fear that Mr. McDonald will do a great job to make changes as secretary if confirmed. His concern instead is that Congress will fail to give him the tools he needs to succeed, especially if more funding is needed.

“I have a fear about what about we will do as a Congress so we’re not just blathering bromides of good feeling and good will sympathizing with the veterans,” he said.

Congress is currently working on legislation that would make reforms to the VA, including giving the next secretary more power to fire poor-performing top executives and opening outside care to veterans who have been waiting too long for an appointment. A conference committee of negotiators from the House and Senate has met once, but has yet to come up with a final bill or a way to pay for the hefty price tag.

Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, said lawmakers must make passing the legislation a priority before leaving town next month.

“We ought not adjourn for an August recess without reaching a conclusion,” he said. “Don’t walk away from this issue.”



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