So you’re fed up with the shenanigans at the Veterans Administration, and you want to change it. What if the White House told you that you could lead it? Would you do it?
I only ask because from what I’m hearing, many are declining. It’s true, President Obama’s been having a devil of a time trying to fill the top spot at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The CEO of the Cleveland Clinic is the latest to withdraw his name from consideration. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove released a statement, saying he was humbled and honored to be considered, but he’s staying where he is.
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The Wall Street Journal reports that another top prospect, Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky, a high-ranking official at the VA, has withdrawn his name from consideration to take over as Undersecretary for Health at the VA.
I can’t say I blame these gentlemen or any of the reported half-dozen other administrators, both at the VA now or private hospitals that work with the VA now, who’ve similarly nixed any budding interest in top positions at the beleaguered agency.
Think about it, would you want into this hornet’s nest of incompetence, especially when they’re not changing the administration of the nest itself? For now, you still can’t fire subordinates. You still can’t reprimand subordinates, without going through a months-long review process. And to make matters worse, you still can’t budge the Federal Public Employees Union that oversees much of the workers there, from changing personnel matters there. Even special language being worked into a bipartisan Veterans Agency fix, supposedly with the blessing of the union, still does little to fundamentally change the hiring and firing practices there.
So, even if you’re General Patton, you’re going to have to sit pat, and at best, sit tight. Legislation is reportedly coming down the pike to supposedly allow administrators to fire, and hold folks accountable, but wouldn’t you know it’s being stymied in the Senate. The fear is that opening the VA to such harsh private-industry standards, i.e., simple accountability, could put all federal workers at risk. God forbid!
That’s why so few are signing up for this task. They know it’s a suicide mission; that as much as they might want to change the system, they’d be stuck overseeing the same system and the same bureaucratic indifference. No doubt, some hard-drivers could shame some into change, but they can’t threaten to fire or demote those who need it, into change.
That means … don’t expect much to change. And the long history of White House administrative appointments confirms those who take on such risky assignments more often get the blame than the pat on the back, before they’re just shown the door. Even the most highly regarded private hospital administrators are reportedly dismissing overtures precisely because they know they won’t be able to dismiss dead weight. In the private world in which they work, these men and women who are pretty good at logistics, know it’s a different beast entirely at the VA. They also know that while there are some very good people at the VA, there’s no set of rewards to incentivize the right behavior – better response to patients, and improved satisfaction from those patients.
Bottom line – there's not exactly a Conga Line of candidates, or at least the right candidates. None of this means the President won’t eventually find his guy to lead this agency, he just might be ending up with a guy who isn’t exactly ideal to lead this agency.
It’s sad, because our veterans deserve better. They deserve a take-no-prisoners administrator who will bang heads and take names. When prospective candidates know in advance, for now, they can’t do either, are we really surprised they’re not signing up?
In order to change the VA, we first have to change the culture of same-ness at the VA. And that means making it run like soldiers run in battle – quickly, efficiently, bravely. If the guys the VA is serving get that, you would think the folks serving them would get that.