Nominee promises digital answers to VA problems

Robert McDonald

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.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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