Four nominees for high-profile posts at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been stalled weeks after an unidentified lawmaker on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee placed a hold on their confirmations, the panel’s chairman confirmed on Wednesday.
The move has frustrated committee leaders and VA officials, who have said the delay in the confirmations is slowing reform efforts at the department.
“You’re not hurting those folks, you’re hurting the veterans they serve and you’re hurting the VA,” said chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont. “If we want to hold the VA accountable, it is patently unfair not to give them a full slate of employees.”
The group of stalled nominees includes Donald Remy, tapped to be the Deputy VA Secretary, the second-highest position in the department; Matthew Quinn, picked to serve as under secretary for memorial affairs; Maryanne Donaghy, nominated to lead VA’s whistleblower protection office; and Patricia Ross, selected to be assistant secretary for legislative affairs.
The practice of anonymous holds allows any individual senator to indefinitely delay nominees for any reason. Placing holds on nominees for issues related to their background or concerns over their past comments is common in the Senate, as is holding up nominees for unrelated requests of a department, such as policy question responses or overdue congressional inquiries.
But Tester’s public frustration and confusion over the hold is not typical. And the move adds to the already slow pace of filling top positions at the department, which has been without a under secretary for health for more than four years and still has acting officials in nearly all of its other top leadership posts.
All four of the VA nominees were unanimously approved by the committee last month. Tester said he does not know who placed the hold on the confirmations or why, but he does know it was done by a member of his committee.
“If they’re being held because the VA is not stepping up and doing something, let this committee know,” Tester said in a public plea at the end of an unrelated hearing Wednesday afternoon. “If it’s a reasonable request, more than likely we’ll help you get VA to achieve that goal.
“If it’s an unreasonable request, then that’s very unfortunate.”
Late last month, the confirmation of Army Secretary Christine Wormuth was delayed after Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., put a hold on her nomination until a constituent’s military pay issue was resolved.
On Tuesday, during an appearance before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, VA Secretary Denis McDonough expressed hope that Remy and the other nominees would be confirmed in the next few days, calling their roles “vitally important.”
None of the nominees faced any controversy or opposition during their confirmation hearing in May. With the Senate scheduled to leave town on Thursday afternoon for the weekend, the nominations are likely to slip until sometime next week at the earliest, if the hold is lifted.
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.