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Obama’s VA secretary pick: former Procter & Gamble exec McDonald

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to nominate former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary, as the White House seeks to shore up an agency beset by treatment delays and struggling to deal with an influx of new veterans returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An administration official said Obama would announce McDonald’s appointment Monday. If confirmed by the Senate, McDonald would succeed Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star general who resigned last month as the scope of the issues at veterans’ hospitals became apparent.

In tapping McDonald for the post, Obama is signaling his desire to install a VA chief with broad management experience. McDonald also has a military background, graduating near the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving as a captain in the Army, primarily in the 82nd Airborne Division.

The administration official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm McDonald’s appointment before the president’s announcement.

McDonald resigned abruptly from Procter & Gamble in May 2013 amid pressure from investors concerned that he was not doing enough to boost the company’s performance.

McDonald, who had spent 33 years at the consumer products giant, said at the time of his retirement that he believed constant speculation about his job status had become too much of a distraction to the company.

The VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country, with more than 300,000 fulltime employees and nearly 9 million veterans enrolled for care. But the agency has come under intense scrutiny in recent months amid reports of patients dying while waiting for appointments and of treatment delays in VA facilities nationwide.

Obama dispatched one of his top advisers, Rob Nabors, to the VA to help investigate agency issues and appointed Sloan Gibson as acting secretary while awaiting a permanent replacement.

Nabors and Gibson delivered a scathing report to Obama Friday, citing “significant and chronic system failures” in the nation’s health system. The report also portrayed the Veterans Affairs Department as a struggling agency battling a corrosive culture of distrust, lacking in resources and ill-prepared to deal with an influx of new and older veterans with a range of medical and mental health care needs.

McDonald’s nomination was praised by his peers in the private sector and military.

Jim McNerney, Chairman and CEO of The Boeing Company, called McDonald an “outstanding choice for this critically important position.” Retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChystal, who served with McDonald in the 82nd Airborne, said the nominee’s “business acumen, coupled with his dedication and love of our nation’s military and veteran community, make him a truly great choice for the tough challenges we have at VA.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called McDonald “a good man, a veteran and a strong leader with decades of experience in the private sector. With those traits, he’s the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic, systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA.”

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said in a statement that he looked forward to meeting with McDonald next week to get his views on issues he views as important.

Among them, Sanders said in a statement, “The VA needs significantly improved transparency and accountability and it needs an increased number of doctors, nurses and other medical staff so that all eligible veterans get high-quality health care in a timely manner.”

HELLER REVEALS CONCERNS

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he is “hopeful that Robert McDonald will bring his unique experience and skill set to the job, and help to restore veterans’ confidence in the VA system.”

Heller said he is particularly concerned that a new VA chief can apply the leverage needed to reverse the status of the VA Reno regional benefits office from being one of the worst in the nation.

“The new VA secretary must not forget (a) very important directive of the VA, which is to provide veterans with the benefits they earned while in service to this country. As a Senator from the state with one of the worst-performing VA Regional Offices, I will continue to press for improvements within the Veterans Benefits Administration.”

Heller added that “any person nominated to this position must insist on a dedicated, focused approach to ensuring that veterans have access to excellent care so the problems plaguing the current system are addressed and fixed.”

“Our nation’s veterans deserve world-class care, and the incoming VA Secretary is responsible for accomplishing that goal,” Heller said in response to a Review-Journal query.

TITUS EAGER TO MEET MCDONALD

In a statement Sunday, Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said as a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, she looks forward to meeting McDonald “to learn how he plans to address these systemic failures and implement the necessary measures to restore veterans’ trust in the VA system.”

“Mismanagement, poor transparency, and lack of accountability have plagued the VA for too long. These issues, along with the need for increased physicians, have kept our veterans from receiving the care they deserve in a timely manner,” Titus said.

McDonald led Procter & Gamble from 2009 to 2013. During that time, the company website states: “P&G realized annual sales of over $84 billion. The company had more than 120,000 employees, 120 plants and 200 brands in 35 categories, of which 25 brands generate over $1 billion in sales each year.”

The company’s Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and other products can be found in 98 percent of American households. But under McDonald’s leadership, P&G struggled to grow under increased competition and global economic challenges. Critics suggested he was having trouble getting the 150-year-old-plus company to fire on all cylinders.

Investors, including activist investor William Ackman, voiced frustration over the company’s slow revenue growth and stagnant market share gains. Ackman, who took a 1 percent stake in the company, pressed for the company to streamline operations and improve results.

In a letter announcing his retirement from P&G, McDonald wrote, “This has been a very difficult decision for me, but I’m convinced it is what is in the best interests of the company and you.”

In a surprise move, McDonald was replaced by the man he had replaced, former P&G CEO A.G. Lafley.

McDonald has also served on the board of directors of the Xerox Corp., the United States Steel Corp., the McKinsey Advisory Council and the Greater Cincinnati regional initiative intended to “grow high-potential startups” in the Cincinnati region.

McDonald is 61. A native of Gary, Indiana, he grew up in Chicago and graduated from West Point in 1975 with a degree in engineering. He also earned an MBA from the University of Utah in 1978.

Review-Journal reporter Keith Rogers and Associated Press writer Tom Raum contributed to this report

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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