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one of his first acts as President Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary,
Robert Wilkie intends to reassign several high-ranking political
appointees at the center of the agency’s ongoing morale crisis and
staffing exodus, according to three people familiar with his plans.
who will be sworn in Monday, wants to form his own leadership team,
these people say, and to ease lawmakers’ continued concern that VA,
historically a nonpartisan corner of the government, has become
highly politicized. He discussed the proposed personnel moves with Trump
in recent days aboard Air Force One, while en route to a veterans
convention in Kansas City, Mo., said an official close to the White
Housewho, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Announcements could come as soon as this week, pending approval from the White House Personnel Office.
Gleason, a spokeswoman for Wilkie, declined to comment on specific
reassignments, saying in an email this past week that “any leadership
changes will be announced next week.” VA officials referred a request
for comment to the White House press office, which did not respond.
Hoellwarth, communications director for AMVETS, an advocacy group with
more than 250,000 members, praised Wilkie for acting quickly to ensure
that VA “is driven by a desire to serve veterans first.”
the last year at VA, widely publicized internal political turmoil among
senior officials has gotten in the way of serving veterans,” Hoellwarth
said, “and it seems like Wilkie is acting decisively to stamp that out
on his watch.”
changes would sideline much of VA’s interim leadership team under
acting secretary Peter O’Rourke, who drew unfavorable reviews from
lawmakers in both political parties following a disputewith the agency’s inspector general and a Washington Post report that highlighted O’Rourke’s efforts topurge
civil servants and some political appointees whom he and others
installed by Trump deemed unsupportive of the president’s agenda.
a former Trump campaign worker, will be reassigned to a less visible
role overseeing a new office focused on improving VA operations,
according to people familiar with Wilkie’s plans. The position does not
require Senate confirmation.
others who face reassignment have told Congress they were trying to
improve the effectiveness of an agency that has long struggled to
provide timely health care and benefits to veterans, and to root out
poor performers. Instead, they have estranged many career staffers who
serve veterans day-to-day.
Wilkie, who oversaw
military personnel policy at the Pentagon before Trump tapped him to
lead VA, is expected to name Pamela Powers his chief of staff, according
to people familiar with Wilkie’s plans. She has filled that role for
him at the Defense Department.
VA’s general counsel, James Byrne, a Trump appointee, is expected be named acting deputy secretary.The role has beenvacant since Thomas Bowman retired in June. Bowman was isolated by O’Rourke and the other appointees, who viewed him as too moderate.
will face multiple challenges leading VA, which has lacked a permanent
leader since Trump fired former secretary David Shulkin in March amid a
highly publicized power struggle between Shulkin and O’Rourke and his
VA has numerous leadership vacancies.
There is no permanent deputy secretary, the department’s No. 2
leadership post; there is no undersecretary for VA’s health system, the
largest in the country; there is no deputy undersecretary for health;
there is no assistant secretary for information technology.
Additionally, dozens of senior-level staff have departed VA amid the
turmoil that has marked the past six months, leaving numerous vacancies.
expected reassignments include Jacquelyn Hayes-Byrd, VA’s deputy chief
of staff, who has served as acting chief of staff since May and carried
out the reassignments of many civil servants. Hayes-Byrd may take an
acting role in human resources, according to two people familiar with
John Ullyot, VA’s assistant
secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, will likely be
reassigned to a role running internal communications, these people said.
Ullyot, a former Senate aide, openly clashed with Shulkin and left VA
on paid leave for several weeks at the end of Shulkin’s tenure,
returning after the secretary’s firing.
press secretary Curt Cashour, a former Capitol Hill aide who has clashed
with reporters, is said to be searching for another job in the Trump
administration, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sandoval, acting chief information officer and the former director of
data operations for Trump’s campaign — who received poor reviews from
lawmakers on his progress overseeing a $16 billion project to modernize
VA’s electronic health records system — is expected to leave the
administration in coming months, according to a person familiar with his
After The Post’s report revealed that
O’Rourke had taken aggressive steps to sideline or reassign employees
who were perceived to be disloyal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell (R-Ky.) moved quickly to get Wilkie in place. Sen. Jon Tester
(Mont.), the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,
and seven other Senate Democrats have called for an investigation into
political interference in VA’s “transparency processes.”
House Democrats this month called on the Justice Department to
investigate whether O’Rourke lied during congressional testimony related
to a VA inspector general investigation of the agency’s Office of
Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.
Wilkie’s confirmation hearing in June, Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) told the nominee that sinking
morale at VA would be Wilkie’s biggest challenge. According to data
compiled by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, more than
26,000 full-time employees left VA last year, with most quitting or