CAGW Names VA Secretary Robert McDonald April Porker of the Month

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald its April Porker of the Month for his further bungling of a massively mismanaged agency.

It is not easy to turn around a department in as much disarray as the VA.  However, that effort should start by adopting commonsense business practices that are used in every company.  Secretary McDonald appears to have run Proctor & Gamble (P&G) well enough that consumers can still brush their teeth with Crest rather than just Colgate and wash their dishes with Joy instead of just Palmolive.  But the secretary has so far done a poor job of managing the VA within the very limited confines of competency for a government agency, let alone a private-sector company.

Secretary McDonald should be front and center with a response to every report of mismanagement at the VA.  He should present Congress, taxpayers, and most of all veterans, with a clear, concise, and comprehensive plan to cut the waste, fraud, and abuse and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the VA.  Instead, he has not exactly elicited the kind of empathy on Capitol Hill that would help him acquire the necessary tools to fix the agency’s problems.

During a February 11, 2015 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) charged Sec. McDonald with “glossing over the extraordinary problems confronted by your department.”  The secretary lashed back indignantly bragging, “I ran a company, sir, what have you done?”  He shifted blame from the VA to Congress by telling Rep. Coffman, “You’ve been here longer than I have… If there’s a problem in Denver, you own it more than I do.”  One would imagine that a response such as that to the P&G board when Mr. McDonald was CEO could have led to a vote on whether he should be fired for insubordination.

The “Denver” reference was to the medical complex in suburban Aurora, which has been a black eye for the VA for the past decade.  The cost was originally slated to be $328 million in 2005. It ballooned to $621 million by 2006, and was estimated in March 2015 to cost $1.73 billion. The project was dubbed the “biggest construction failure” in the history of the VA.  Despite his apparent abdication of responsibility for the project, it was on Sec. McDonald’s watch that the VA begged Congress to lift the $880 million spending cap imposed on the project.  One rationale for the need to throw more good money after bad was to avoid another construction shutdown (the first of which happened on his watch in December).  Indeed, Sec. McDonald forced one top official to take the fall for the VA’s continued financial negligence.   

Sec. McDonald should also not escape blame for the failure to fix problems at the infamous Phoenix VA hospital, where the denial of benefits to veterans due to a combination of negligence and a flawed claims system has continued unabated.  An October 2014 investigation found that a VA facility in Shreveport, Louisiana lacked “toothbrushes, toothpaste, pajamas, sheets and blankets” for veterans as the facility bought solar panels, new televisions, and new furniture.  There so much mismanagement that the VA Committee could hold a hearing every week; indeed, there is another one on April 22, “Philadelphia and Oakland: Systemic Failures and Mismanagement.”  The toxic culture at the VA has even fostered a chilling effect on employees who blow the whistle on this waste, fraud, and abuse. 

CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “After decades of mismanagement, abuse, and waste, Sec. McDonald should at least show a little contrition.  In his short time as secretary, he has failed to demonstrate sufficient willingness to reform the bureaucracy; instead, he has been arrogant.  It is time for the secretary to take charge and give veterans confidence that he will provide them with the services they need, without delay and without excuses.”

For further bungling the management of a department ravaged by scandal, abdicating responsibility for its condition, and failing to provide a clear plan for resolving the problems and moving forward, CAGW names VA Secretary Robert McDonald its April Porker of the Month.

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.  Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

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