STARS AND STRIPES
By NIKKI WENTLING
Published: January 17, 2018
WASHINGTON — Why four top jobs within the Department of Veterans Affairs remain unfilled nearly one year after President Donald Trump took office drew the attention of members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday as they questioned VA Secretary David Shulkin about the state of the agency.
VA Secretary David Shulkin raises his hand to take an oath before the start of a Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES
The VA, the second-largest federal department, is operating without permanent leaders for its benefits administration and large health care system. Also missing are its IT leader and the assistant secretary for the agency’s new accountability and whistleblower protection office. The leadership void came up at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, where Shulkin gave testimony on the “State of the VA.”
“One thing that concerns me deeply is the four positions that remain unfilled in the department,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the committee chairman. “I know you’re trying, but this is one of those things where an ‘A’ for effort isn’t enough.”
The job of undersecretary for benefits has been vacant since October 2015, when then-undersecretary Allison Hickey resigned after being implicated in a government watchdog report for helping two VA employees manipulate the department hiring system.
The VA created a commission last spring to choose a new undersecretary. Shulkin told senators Wednesday that the commission sent three names to the White House. Their first choice for the job withdrew, Shulkin said, and Trump’s administration is now vetting the second choice.
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