WASHINGTON — After a nearly two-and-a-half-year wait, the Veterans Benefits Administration is poised to get a new permanent leader.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated Army veteran Paul Lawrence as the next under secretary of Veterans Affairs for benefits, a post that has been manned by a series of acting officials since Allison Hickey stepped down from the job in October 2015.
Lawrence is currently a vice president at Kaiser Associates, an international consulting firm, where he specializes in organizational efficiency. For the last three decades he has worked in a variety of accounting firms in roles focused on federal government practices and effectiveness.
He is also an Army Airborne School graduate who left the service at the rank of captain.
Lawrence’s nomination was hinted at by VA Secretary David Shulkin last month during congressional testimony, when asked about high-profile positions vacant in his administration.
Since a travel scandal broke on Wednesday, VA leadership has been embroiled in internal political fights that could result in the ousting of more top department leaders.
Shulkin said he expected the benefits nominee to be announced in coming weeks, but could not offer a timeline for when a nominee for the under secretary of Veterans Affairs for health — his old job — would be made public.
The nomination comes amid scandal and turmoil at VA, following the release of a critical inspector general’s report alleging multiple improprieties related to a overseas trip last July. Since then, Shulkin has spoken out about internal strife within the department, indicating that high-level firings for insubordination could be coming soon.
How long Lawrence’s confirmation process may take is unclear. Democrats in the Senate have slowed votes on nominees over unrelated political battles with Republicans, drawing criticism from the majority party and the White House.
But lawmakers from both sides have also noted the slow pace of nominations from Trump’s administration as a major reason why many senior agency posts remain unfilled.
In 2016, Lawrence co-authored a report for Kaiser Associates titled “The Onboarding of New Political Appointees” in which the firm noted a lack of “organized, sustained efforts” to help new federal nominees better begin their new roles in government.
If confirmed, he’ll take over that responsibility for an agency of nearly 30,000 employees charged with handling an array of veterans benefits, including disability payouts and education funds.