WASHINGTON (KDKA/AP) – President Barack Obama has picked former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald as the next Veterans Affairs secretary.
“Singularly impressive record in the business world, leading a major corporation like Proctor & Gamble,” U.S. Sen. Bob Casey told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.
McDonald, a West Point graduate but with no lengthy military service, also has a record of donating money to Republicans, including Mitt Romney and John Boehner.
The choice of McDonald as Secretary of Veterans Affairs is a bit unusual, a bit unorthodox for an agency that is traditionally led by a career military man.
And local folks are divided about this choice.
At the Carnegie VFW, some saluted the president’s choice of an outsider.
“He’s going outside to private companies,” says Jerry Schryer of Scott. “These men are all very important and successful men, so I give him credit for going outside the political party.”
But not everyone agrees.
“I think career military would be the way to go,” says John Kushner of Robinson. “I think they’re more advanced, and I think they know what’s going on with the situations.”
Those situations include the VA’s failure to see patients quickly where a report found a “corrosive culture” marked by “poor management” and mistrust and the Legionella fiasco in Pittsburgh which led to deaths of veterans but bonuses to VA managers.
“He’s got to restore faith here because of the outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease and Legionella, and those families who not only lost a loved one in that tragedy but also have real questions about whether the VA can deliver the kind of care it’s supposed to deliver,” says Casey.
And Casey is optimistic McDonald can do just that.
Last month, U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy, a Republican, and Mike Doyle, a Democrat, criticized the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System for keeping nearly 700 veterans on a list for medical care, some for more than a year.
The two congressmen issued a statement calling on the VA to contact every veteran on the list within 48 hours.
The next day, President Obama announced that Shinseki had resigned due to the scandal.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” says U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle. “Gen. Shinseki is an honorable man. He served his country. I think he thought the best thing he could do for veterans was to step aside and to let this process move forward. The focal point needs to be the veterans. Not one person.”
Congressman Murphy also spoke with KDKA Radio’s Mike Pintek a short time after President Obama announced that Shinseki had resigned. Murphy says the resignation showed Shinseki was taking personal responsibility for the growing list of problems at VA health centers around the country.
“He was at the top, he takes responsibility for it but all the way through, all the people, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do,” said Congressman Murphy. “At multiple sites, at multiple hospitals around the nation.”
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.”
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.
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