WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin insists his department isn’t suffering because of sizable number of open leadership positions at his department.
But he also doesn’t expect the vacancies to last for much longer.
Shulkin told reporters this week that he expects several VA leadership announcements “in the next week or two.” But he also dismissed questions as to whether the the vacancies have disrupted department operations.
“One of the things that I'm very fortunate having been here in the last administration is that we've had pretty good continuity,” he said. “And the people that are filling the acting positions are people that I've worked with, have great confidence and trust in.
“So we haven't really missed a beat at VA. We've been able to keep going.”
Of the top 15 positions at the department, only three are filled by full-time officials: Shulkin, Chief of Staff Vivieca Simpson and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs John Ullyot. The other posts are all currently occupied by “acting” officials.
A search panel charged with recommending a permanent under secretary for benefits for the Veterans Benefits Administration was due to complete work in April, and a similar panel for the permanent under secretary for health for the Veterans Health Administration had a May deadline for recommendations. So far, VA has not made an announcement about either post.
Both of those positions — and several others in the leadership chain of command — will require Senate confirmation.
The process typically takes one to two months, meaning if White House officials don’t offer nominees soon, the Senate’s scheduled August recess could push confirmation of the new officials into the fall.
“Of course, I want all of our positions filled as quickly as possible,” Shulkin said. “The vetting process that's going on is a lengthy process. I know, having gone through it myself. But it's also really important to get right.
“And so while we want to see it done as quickly as possible, we want to see it done thoroughly and make sure that don't make mistakes.”
The White House has received criticism for the slow pace of appointments at numerous government agencies, including the Department of Defense, where the Army secretary and Navy secretary jobs are still being filled by acting officials.
President Trump has repeatedly blamed the delays on Democrats in Congress, but lawmakers have countered that Trump has given them few names to consider for the open positions.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.