The nominee to take over the long-vacant inspector general post at the Veterans Affairs Department promised that if confirmed, he would make management accountability and whistleblower protection his top priorities.
"This is a particularly critical time for VA as it attempts to rebuild the trust and confidence it has lost from our veterans, Congress, veterans service organizations and the American public," said attorney Mike Missal, who previously worked as senior counsel on a number of federal and congressional investigations.
"The need to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and to promote efficiency and integrity at VA may never have been greater."
Michael J. Missal, nominee to be the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, testifies before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on Nov. 17, 2015. (Alan Lessig/Staff)
Photo Credit: Alan Lessig, Military Times
That message was warmly received by senators, who warned Missal that he would be filling a key oversight role for an agency still trying to come to terms with scandals from early 2014.
"We have a very serious problem at VA," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman "It's an organization that has had people indicted, administrators fired … cost overruns, difficulties in management, delayed benefits, and quite frankly an administration whose response is spotty at best.
"It has become obvious to me there is a culture of manipulation at VA that needs to be ended."
Senators gave no indication during the hearing that Missal's nomination will face any opposition. If confirmed, he'll be the first permanent IG for the department in nearly two years, a gap that earned the White House harsh criticism from several lawmakers.
In that time, former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was forced to resign over problems with patient wait times and records manipulation, and nearly all of the department's other top-level executives have departed.
Lawmakers have accused officials in the VA inspector general's office of working too closely with department leaders instead of maintaining their impartial oversight role, an accusation that agency employees have rejected.
"This is not going to be an easy job … but it's a very important job," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Missal said he recognizes "the great frustration in VA not fully meeting its mission" and vowed to work with lawmakers in finding ways to fix those problems.
A full Senate vote on Missal's nomination is expected before the end of the year.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.