Republican Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe on Tuesday lifted his hold on the White House's nominee to take over the Veterans Affairs inspector general post, opening the possibility the agency could get a new head watchdog in coming days.
Michael Missal, who previously worked as a senior counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has been awaiting confirmation since last fall and had his nomination forwarded to the full Senate in early January.
But he has remained stalled there for more than a month, thanks in large part to Inhofe's decision to block the appointment over unanswered questions regarding deficiencies at VA facilities in his state.
The senator said he lifted the hold after VA officials agreed to investigate those problems.
"My office is working hundreds of cases for Oklahoma veterans facing inadequate care or blocked access to benefits," Inhofe said on the Senate floor. "I believe the impending investigations will show that it's going to require a change at the management level to bring about lasting improvements for veteran care."
Outside critics of the department and even VA leaders have been clamoring for Missal's confirmation in recent weeks, saying the inspector general's office needs a new permanent leader to deal with ongoing problems with health care delivery and employee accountability.
Earlier in the day, VA Secretary Bob McDonald asked Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee members to push the nomination ahead, saying the vacancy limits investigators' ability to help improve the department.
Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he had scheduled several meetings this week with key senators to move the process along.
If confirmed, Missal, who has worked on a number of federal and congressional investigation staffs, would be the first permanent inspector general since December 2013, when George Opfer retired.
In the last few years, tensions between the inspector general's staff and VA leadership has grown, with Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson accusing the office of exaggerating problems in a recent report accusing two senior executives of gaming the department's internal hiring systems for personal gain.
Inhofe said his decision to place a hold on the nomination was not a condemnation of Missal's experience or credentials. He was voted out of committee without any opposition.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.