A sign in front of the Veterans Affairs building in Washington. (Karen Bleier / Getty Images)
Two more high-ranking Veterans Affairs officials announced plans to step down from their leadership roles Wednesday, the latest personnel overhaul for an embattled department already lacking multiple top administrators.
Dr. Robert Jesse, the acting VA undersecretary for health and the official in charge of heading the department’s response to the recent care delay scandals, will step aside from that role and his principal deputy post.
He’ll be replaced by assistant deputy undersecretary for health Dr. Carolyn Clancy, who has worked at the department for less than a year. Jesse was working as a temporary replacement for Dr. Robert Petzel, who resigned as undersecretary in May.
VA general counsel Will Gunn will also step down from his post, which he has held since 2009. Principal deputy general counsel Tammy Kennedy will serve as acting counsel until a permanent replacement is named.
The changes go into effect next week. In addition, former VA undersecretary for health Dr. Jonathan Perlin will be named a temporary senior adviser to acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson. Perlin is taking a leave of absence from his current position as president of clinical services for Hospital Corporation of America.
Combined with other recent resignations, the moves leave the Veterans Affairs Department with interim replacements in five of its seven assistant secretary posts and two of its three undersecretary posts, and its No. 2 leader — Gibson — doing his job and that of acting VA secretary.
Gibson took over the department last month after the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in the wake of allegations that medical appointment wait times at VA facilities across the country were being falsified to cover up scheduling problems and protect performance bonuses for hospital executives.
Together, Gibson and Clancy have less than 18 months’ experience working in VA. They’re now charged with turning around a department under siege for years of problems with patient access and a perceived culture of apathy toward improvements.
Lawmakers have called for the White House to move quickly in finding new leadership for the department, but have also blasted past VA leaders for being too internally focused and out-of-touch with veterans’ needs.
Two of the open assistant secretary posts could be filled tomorrow if the Senate moved ahead on pending nominations. Linda Schwartz, the pick to take over as assistant secretary for policy, has been waiting almost a year for her nomination to be approved. The nomination of chief financial officer nominee Helen Tierney has been pending for more than 260 days.
Across all agencies, the average wait time for pending nominees before the Senate is 221 days.
Earlier this year, the administration nominated Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky to take over the VA undersecretary for health post. But he withdrew his name following Shinseki’s resignation, citing fears of a political fight.
An advisory panel has already begun a search for a permanent replacement for the post now held by Clancy.
A White House official said that the administration is “moving rapidly to address recent vacancies” at VA but is also hoping the Senate will confirm VA’s pending nominees “without further delay.”