Nominee promises digital answers to VA problems
- By Sean Lyngaas
- Jul 22, 2014
The Obama administration’s attempt to move past the multitude of problems plaguing the Veterans Affairs Department moved to Capitol Hill on July 22 with the confirmation hearing for former Procter & Gamble chief executive Robert McDonald.
Senators on the Veterans' Affairs Committee were generally supportive of McDonald's nomination, expressing confidence that he would be confirmed while warning that he was inheriting an immense management challenge, which includes how the VA can use data to cut down on wait times for treatment.
In his opening statement, McDonald described Procter & Gamble’s digitization of its operations as an experience he could apply to the VA.
"The department must improve its forecasting and develop a strategy for meeting increased demand. At the same time, I believe the department will need to continue to expand the use of digital technology to free human resources that can be applied more to the care of veterans," McDonald said.
The VA "needs to demonstrate that it can manage a complex facilities portfolio; that it can create, with the department of Defense, an integrated records system; that it can regularly and accurately produce key data for decision-makers and oversight entities; and most importantly, provide veterans the highest quality and most cost-effective benefits possible," he added.
Eric Shinseki resigned in late May as VA secretary amid heavy criticism from Congress and veterans groups that he wasn’t doing enough to shorten wait times for health care.
If the July 22 confirmation hearing is anything go by, lawmakers are optimistic that McDonald can bring a "corporate culture" of accountability to the VA, as one senator put it.
The nominee responded later in the hearing by offering to give each of the senators his cell phone number as a means of holding him accountable.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he hoped to hold a vote on McDonald's nomination July 23, and that based on the hearing, he expects McDonald to be confirmed.
Sean Lyngaas is the Pentagon correspondent for FCW, where he covers cybersecurity, defense IT and intelligence issues. Prior to that, he was a reporter and editor for Smart Grid Today, the utility industry's journal of record. He has reported for The Atlantic, The Economist and The Washington Diplomat, among other outlets. He is former chair of the Young Members Committee at the National Press Club. Sean earned his B.A. from Duke University and his M.A. from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University.