Robert Wilkie, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs (expected to be sworn-in today), is expected to re-assign several of the recent political appointees who have contributed to the alleged turmoil in VA upper management.
Historically non-partisan, the VA upper echelon had become politicized under Interim Secretary Peter O’Rourke. O’Rourke created a bipartisan Congressional furor when he attempted to purge civil servants and others who were allegedly not carrying out a political agenda. Secretary Wilkie appears to intend to reassign O’Rourke to an operations post and to form a new leadership team, according to inside information provided to the Washington Post newspaper.
O’Rourke drew heavy criticism from lawmakers of both parties in Congress as a result of purging and staffing efforts and a major dispute with the VA’s Inspector General. Former VA Sec. David Shulkin was fired by President Trump in March, after Shulkin, locked in a power struggle with O’Rourke, was found to have allegedly overspent on personal perks.
Wilkie, formerly the head of personnel policy at the Pentagon, faces major challenges, starting with re-assignment and replacement of top staffers, and addressing serious deficiencies at the top management level, mainly due to vacancies. At present, there is no permanent Deputy Secretary, no Deputy Undersecretary for Health, no Undersecretary for Information Technology, and no Undersecretary for the VA Health System, largest in the US.
Secretary Wilkie’s actions to staff the VA positions with a new team will require approval from the White House Personnel Office, and are expected to be announced shortly.