Then-Proctor & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald speaks Sept. 23, 2012, during the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York. (Getty Images)
The White House on Monday will nominate former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to take over as the next Veterans Affairs secretary, charged with fixing the ongoing veterans care delay scandal and restoring public faith in the department.
McDonald, a West Point graduate, retired from the corporate giant one year ago. He brings considerably more business experience than military experience, spending five years after graduation in the Army and 33 years working with Procter & Gamble’s various offices.
Although he lacks strong ties to the major national veterans groups, McDonald still is close to officials at West Point, where he established the biennial McDonald Cadet Leadership Conference. His military career was primarily with the 82nd Airborne Division.
McDonald is also a life member of the U.S. Army Ranger Association and the 75th Ranger Regiment Association.
The 60-year-old’s nomination comes exactly a month after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign from the post he held more more than five years, the longest tenure since the department was created.
More than 100 members of Congress demanded Shinseki’s departure after weeks of reports about medical appointment problems at dozens of VA hospitals across the country. The department’s office of inspector general is still investigating those reports and how many hospital officials may have covered up access problems to protect performance bonuses.
In his final public remarks before resigning, Shinseki took responsibility for the widespread care delays but also added his own dismay and shock that numerous high-level VA employees would put their own interests before that of veterans.
McDonald’s departure from Procter & Gamble was also sudden, and came after external and internal criticism about how he was managing the company of 120,000-plus employees.
The move is in line with calls for an executive to better manage the second-largest government department, one with more than 300,000 employees and a host of questions about whether the past leadership could handle the work.
One senior administration official said McDonald can bring “well-honed management chops” to the embattled VA. At P&G, he rose from an entry-level job to CEO, holding management positions at many different areas of expertise and countries.
Still, the move was a surprise to many in the veterans community. Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said officials there are looking forward to meeting and working with McDonald, but also concerned about his lack of direct ties to younger veterans.
“There needs to be a youth surge at VA,” he said. “We hope that one of the first things he does is to reach out to our community, to help move ahead on fixing the department.”
Lawmakers have characterized the department’s problems as a cultural failure, caused by a bureaucracy that rewards reaching arbitrary metrics more than actually helping veterans.
The nomination comes with just a few weeks left in Congress’ legislative schedule before an extended, pre-election break. Senate officials have already promised to work quickly on the nomination, but it still could be difficult to finish the background work for confirmation before August arrives.
In a statement, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he planned on meeting with McDonald in the next week.
“The VA needs significantly improved transparency and accountability and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff so that all eligible veterans get high-quality health care in a timely manner,” he said.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said in a statement that McDonald will need to “root out the culture of dishonesty and fraud that has taken hold within the department” in order to succeed.
“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,” he said.