Obama taps Robert A. McDonald to lead VA, tackle troubled agency’s many challenges


Robert McDonald speaks during his nomination by President Obama to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington on Monday. (Dennis Brack / Pool/EPA)

President Obama on Monday nominated former Procter & Gamble chief executive Robert A. McDonald to lead the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs, saying the West Point graduate and one-time Army Ranger had the right management skills to turn around the agency.

Speaking at the department’s headquarters, Obama said McDonald was well-suited to fix what an administration report has found to be “significant and chronic system failures,” a “corrosive culture” and major dysfunction at the Veterans Health Administration, which has faced scandal over long waits encountered by veterans seeking care.

Obama noted McDonald’s many connections to the armed services. McDonald’s father served in World War II, and his wife, Diane, had an uncle who was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and receives treatment from VA.

“[W]hat especially makes Bob the right choice to lead the VA right now is his three decades of experience in building and managing one of the world’s most recognized companies, Procter and Gamble,” Obama said, remarking that, like a big company, VA has hundreds of thousands of employees serving millions of veterans — or, as McDonald put it, “customers.”

“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’ve so earned,” McDonald said. “That’s the only reason we’re here.”

The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), said in a phone interview that he saw McDonald as well-suited for the task that now lies before him.

“His management skills as a former CEO make him a good fit to run the department, which has been plagued by mismanagement for years,” Miller said. “The most important thing is he’s going to have to be able to root out the culture of dishonesty and fraud that’s been in the department, unfortunately, for a number of years.”

Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, a senior Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that McDonald’s experience should serve him well at VA.

“He knows what he’s getting into, and he’s certainly been around the horn before,” Isakson said in a phone interview,

The committee’s chairman, Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), said in an interview that he and his staff still needed to learn more about McDonald.

“You have to know him,” he said. “This man would head up the second-largest budget in the United States government. One has to know where he is coming from.”

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
Juliet Eilperin is a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.
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