OK, let's just get this out of the way right now. You are either nuts or have an enormous amount of guts. You've been called by President Obama to become the next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. As my least favorite
corporate shill business reporter, Neil Cavuto sums up your background:
Seasoned CEO, West Point graduate, former U.S. Army captain. You name it, it seems 61-year-old Robert McDonald has done it. It doesn’t hurt that the company he ran, Procter & Gamble (PG), is all about consumer products and all about keeping consumers happy. What better assets to bring to the Department of Veterans Affairs, assuming McDonald becomes its next chief?What Cavuto really likes about you is that you have donated lots of your personal money to Republicans - including John Boehner. What I can tolerate about you is that you are not a political hack. Unsolicited piece of advice #1: Don't ever become one.
Congressman Jeff Miller and I agree. Period. Full Stop.
“If confirmed by the Senate, Robert McDonald will inherit a Department of Veterans Affairs under a specter of corruption that may very well surpass anything in the history of American government. In order to pave the way for serious and substantive reforms that will help VA to effectively deliver the care and benefits our veterans have earned, he’ll need to root out the culture of dishonesty and fraud that has taken hold within the department and is contributing to all of its most pressing challenges. Quite simply, those who created the VA scandal will need to be purged from the system. Personnel changes, however, won’t be enough.Miller is mostly correct. When he suggests taking the opposite approach of some other VA senior leaders he sort of goes off the rails a bit. Did you notice that he doesn't indicate whose head needs to chopped? Unsolicited piece of advice #2: I say be fair. Replace all of them.
The only way McDonald can set the department up for long term success is to take the opposite approach of some other VA senior leaders. That means focusing on solving problems instead of downplaying or hiding them, holding employees accountable for mismanagement and negligence that harms veterans, and understanding that taxpayer funded organizations such as VA have a responsibility to provide information to Congress and the public rather than stonewalling them.”
If you are going to be successful at re-making this behemoth of an agency, you need time to get the job done. You are a business guy, so figure out how much time you need and get an employment contract. Unsolicited piece of advice #3: Don't buy into any prior restraints including that your job ends on Friday, 20 January 2017. Get an employment contract from Congress that lasts at least 6 years. Your absence of a political background coupled with your financial support of Republicans makes that possible. The precedent: The Director of the FBI.
Unsolicited pieces of advice #4 & 5: Next, you need to be able to clean out the shark tank. The shark tank is located right in front of the red tape room. That means you need to be able to hire and fire everyone in the Secretary's office and everyone in the Deputy Secretary's offices including the Deputy Secretaries.
For a few decades now the sharks have played the status quo game by dredging up red tape - most of which is designed to protect their turf. When you fire them, burn the red tape [in government-speak that means a bi-partisan omnibus restructuring bill - in reality a lobbyist's wet dream]. You are going to have to be careful and be prepared to fight publicly to keep that bill focused on reform that is needed.
You should know that for decades Republicans have tried to do it. They would have succeeded if it weren't for a whole bunch of
your customers us who are Veterans. Unsolicited piece of advice #6: Any thought you have about privatizing the VA will cost you your job. Talk with Anthony Principi about that.
Unsolicited piece of advice #7: Introduce something never seen at the VA: Common Sense. Let's start with the Veterans Benefit Administration. Everyone is going to tell you that the VBA is impossible to reform. Bullpucky.
Where Do You Start?
The VBA is nothing more than Workman's Comp on steroids. There are thousands of people employed there who do nothing but gather paper and put them into tidy piles. Years ago someone figured out that the VBA spent $2.00 in processing a claim for every dime it spared the government from helping a soldier who didn't quite get killed. Common sense tells you what to do. Anybody walking around on 1 1/2 legs shouldn't have to wait 5 years to get her or his workman's comp.
Unsolicited piece of advice #8: Let me tell you where to find all of the VBA answers: Ask two workman's comp lawyers - one who represents management and one who represents employees. Tell them to hammer out a new process and ignore the red tape. The red tape you need to burn at the VBA is huge. Have fun with that. If you do you will hear cheers coming from liberals being drowned by cheers coming from Tea Party Republicans.
What to do about the Veterans Healthcare Administration
Common sense needs to be introduced at the Veteran's Health Administration, too. Right now you have 22 separate medical care systems called VISNS [you know at least 10 VA employees spent a year dreaming up that acronym] . Each is run independently. While I hated that idea there is some pretty good justification for it. Much of the rationale involves the differences in geography. Some VISNS are very good, others are horrible - and I don't mean just Phoenix. Florida is by far worse than Phoenix. Allegedly there is an indictable connection between VISN 8 and The Villages. It's said that some VA employee(s) or their family member(s) have a sizable unearned income. Unsolicited piece of advice #9: Have a chat with Eric Holder and see if it is possible to indict a few people in your first month as VA Secretary.
The most frustrating thing you will discover at VHA is that by-and-large the medical and technical staffs are excellent. Unsolicited piece of advice #10: Salute some heroes. Just an idea: there are a lot of heroes among the medical and technical people. How about a series of PSAs telling the taxpayers who they are and why they are heroes, and just to make it interesting have them selected by us - veterans. I'll bet most would trade that bonus check for some genuine gratitude. Oh, wait. Unsolicited piece of advice #11: The real heroes at the VHA aren't getting those checks. Bonus checks go only to the sharks. Now there's something to fix.
There are VA employees who work there because, even though they have had their license suspended or revoked elsewhere, they have a friend. There aren't many of them, but they get huge amounts of print whenever they screw up. If you notice that the exposure of a screw up couldn't come at a more inopportune time, well, those are the VHA sharks testing you. The reason this is so frustrating is that the really good medical staff and really good technical people are a legitimate source of pride. You need to find a way to convey your appreciation for what I think are 90% of the VHA staff.
Congress and General Shinseki worked together to provide a good chunk of money in your first budget. It appears that you will be able to hire a whole lot of new people. The sharks are smiling over that. Between the US Civil Service Commission and the EEOC there is a enough red tape to delay new hires for about 2 years. Unsolicited piece of advice #12: Deal with the screwed up hiring process first - it will take longer than you can imagine. Meanwhile the sharks will be drumming their fingers implying that you just can't change everything over their objections.
Under General Shinseki's leadership there was one basic achievement at the VHA which was a profound change for the better. Unsolicited piece of advice #13: Affirm the most important thing the General accomplished. He treated us with respect. We as patients were no longer the enemy. I remember clearly when we were. That change in attitude towards Veterans produced a work force within VHA that made us as consumers appreciate them. As one nurse who retired last year said to me, "Until Shinseki showed up I used to hate my job. Now that I'm leaving I really love it." But, the sharks ate him.
Under General Shinseki's leadership one big thing changed.
Unsolicited piece of advice #14: Get behind the idea of re-naming the Portland Oregon Medical Center. It should be named The Eric Shinseki Medical Center. [Confession: that's my VA hospital and I moved from northern Illinois to Oregon just to be close to that hospital. I'm glad I did.] The history of the Department of Veterans Affairs will always be divided at the point General Shinseki took over.
Unsolicited piece of advice #15: Never forget: You are a Veteran, too. Whether you were commanding soldiers, or presiding over employees, you know that respect is a two-way street. One way to show that respect is to be honest with us about getting changes made and implementing corrections. Meet frequently with Veterans service organizations off the record, no cameras or taping allowed. Unsolicited piece of advice #16: Your combat experience has just begun.
Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 4:01 PM PT: It appears this is one of those rare diaries that continue to collect comments long after the first 2 or 3 hours it is posted. So, please continue to express your ideas and suggestions for the improvement of the Veterans Administration. Prior to General Shinseki a diary like this would attract only a litany of abuse heaped on the VA rather than suggestions for it's improvement.