Veterans Affairs officials announced Friday that the department’s top congressional liaison will also serve as acting chief of staff, filling another of VA’s most senior leadership vacancies.
Brooks Tucker, who currently works as assistant secretary for the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, will serve in both that role and the chief of staff post. In a statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised Tucker as the right person for the work.
“As our legislative point man, Brooks helped negotiate some of the most sweeping VA reform legislation in generations and he is an excellent choice to steer the VA ship as our chief of staff,” Wilkie said. “Brooks understands the mission and we’re counting on his knowledge and dedication to make sure VA keeps improving for veterans.”
Tucker’s new appointment was effective as of April 30. He temporarily takes the place of Pamela Powers, who was tapped to serve as acting deputy secretary earlier in the month.
That position became vacant in February when Wilkie abruptly dismissed Jim Byrne from the role. Wilkie attributed the move to a “loss of confidence” in Byrne, but other department officials have indicated the move was related to an internal power struggle at VA.
The latest personnel move leaves three of the department’s top six posts — the deputy secretary, chief of staff and under secretary for health — all filled by acting appointees.
It’s unclear whether any of them will be replaced by permanent nominees, as all congressional confirmation work has slowed in recent months because of both the coronavirus outbreak and the looming November presidential elections.
As head of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Tucker coordinates communication between lawmakers and senior VA leadership, as well as guiding department efforts on legislative matters.
The relationship between lawmakers and Wilkie’s administration has been strained in recent months, particularly with regards to Democratic leadership of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Wilkie and Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., have publicly sparred over several issues, including VA’s handling into the investigation of a congressional staffer’s allegations of sexaual assault at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center.
Tucker is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel with more than 20 years of active and reserve service. He previously worked as a senior policy adviser to Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and as the deputy staff director for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Republican staff.
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.