WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin promised to crack down on underperforming employees in his first televised interview since being sworn into the post last week.
"When you have one or two or three people who really aren't doing their job, they bring everybody down," he said during an appearance with Fox News host Pete Hegseth, taped Sunday.
"And so the very best thing I know from my private sector experience is you've got to deal with that, you've got to get them out of the system, because it helps not only the veterans, but the people who work in VA who are trying to do the right thing for veterans."
The interview, which will be shown in sections on the "Fox & Friends" morning show throughout the week, is the first real public comments from Shulkin since he became the first non-veteran in American history to oversee the federal veterans agencies.
He promised to work with Congress on new accountability legislation but also to be an advocate for VA workers, calling them "the best people in health care."
Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran who was under consideration from President Trump for the VA secretary post, in the interview accused former VA Secretary Bob McDonald of being more interested in maintaining the status quo at the department than firing troublesome employees.
Shulkin pushed back on that accusation, saying: "What I heard (McDonald) saying is that it’s very important to have a due process. You don’t want to arbitrarily fire people."
But he also promised different results than his predecessor.
"Watch us," he said. "People who don’t show up to work, who do cocaine or who are watching porn at work are going to be fired, because I’m not going to tolerate it, and they’re going to be out of our system. Watch our results there.
"But remember, the vast, vast majority of our employees are dedicated. They could be working anywhere in health care, but they choose to be working at VA. And I’m going to support them, I’m going to be standing behind them."
Shulkin was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, one of only a few non-controversial Cabinet picks by Trump. He was President Barack Obama’s pick to lead VA health programs for the last 18 months and still sees patients as part of his VA duties.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.