Former business executive Robert McDonald’s “management chops” will help him reform the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department, the White House said Monday.
“This is somebody who has a lot of experience and has enjoyed a lot of success in managing a large company,” Earnest said of McDonald, a retired chairman for Proctor & Gamble and President Obama’s pick for VA secretary. McDonald spent 33 years at P&G, a Fortune 500 company.
Earnest added that McDonald had a “pretty compelling story” that would boost his confirmation chances.
If confirmed by the Senate, though, he will face a tough challenge in reforming an agency racked by a scandal over patient wait times that critics say led to the deaths of some veterans.
Independent investigations have found that the misconduct was widespread throughout the VA system, and the FBI is now conducting a criminal investigation.
In May, a VA inspector general report on an agency hospital in Phoenix found that patients had waited an average of 115 days for an initial doctor’s appointment, while official data claimed the wait time was only 24 days. The investigation also uncovered 1,700 veterans who had been kept off official patient lists.
A White House-mandated audit of the VA medical network found that more 57,000 veterans had to wait at least three months to see a doctor. An additional 64,000 over the last decade requested care but did not receive an appointment for some reason.
Those revelations led to VA Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric ShinsekiDems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations Report: Trump considering two health CEOs to lead VA Trump considering Navy Adm. Michelle Howard to run VA: report MORE resigning on May 30.
Earnest dismissed rumors that McDonald was picked, in part, because of his history of giving money to Republican causes, including 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and lto awmakers like Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanHillary gives Bernie cool reception at Trump inaugural lunch GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion Senators introduce dueling miners bills MORE from his home state of Ohio. Some observers questioned whether those donations might smooth his path to Senate confirmation.
Earnest said that McDonald “was principally chosen because he has the kind of record as a solid manager that will be required” of the next VA chief.
Discussing his track record in the private sector, Earnest said McDonald was “widely credited” with Proctor and Gamble’s success in mentoring middle managers, a skill he said would “really critical” at the VA.
Rob Nabors, who was dispatched by Obama to help clean up the problems at the VA, will stay at the department for the time being to bring McDonald “up to speed and talk through ... the challenges” the department is facing, Earnest said.
On Friday, Nabor issued a scathing review of the VA, detailing what he called a “corrosive culture” at the agency.
Earnest declined to reveal who the president consulted with before deciding to pick McDonald, saying the choice had been “discussed by senior members of the White House.”