Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the nominee’s current status. A previous version of this story incorrectly said he was already confirmed.
Senate lawmakers on Thursday set up a vote on James Byrne nomination as the new Veterans Affairs deputy secretary when they return to session in September, potentially filling the department’s second-highest leadership post after a wait of more than a year.
Byrne has served as the acting deputy secretary since last August. While numerous other pending nominations were cleared by senators in the final hours before the chamber’s scheduled extended summer legislative break, Byrne was among a small group that will have to wait until September for a final vote.
Byrne is a Naval Academy graduate who deployed overseas as a Marine infantry officer and later joined the Department of Justice as an international narcotics prosecutor. He also previously worked as an investigator with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction before leaving government to work for the Lockheed Martin Corporation for several years.
VA General Counsel James Byrne, who has served as the acting deputy secretary since last August, was formally nominated for the job.
He was formally nominated by President Donald Trump in April and had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee a month later. But his nomination has stalled in recent weeks as Senate leaders have pushed through a host of judicial nominations and other executive branch vacancies.
During his confirmation hearing, Byrne praised reform efforts in the department since VA Secretary Robert Wilkie took office last summer.
“I can tell you that the VA is headed in the right direction,” he said. “I am extremely bullish on the VA. I believe in where we are going, and I am frankly very eager to be confirmed so I can continue to help the secretary implement important initiatives on behalf of our veterans.”
Lawmakers worry VA hasn't fully addressed issues that prompted a nationwide scandal five years ago.
The VA deputy secretary post has been open since Thomas Bowman retired from the job in June 2018. Bowman had been passed over for the acting VA secretary job twice after the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin, and reportedly had fought with White House operatives on a host of department policy issues.