The withdrawal of Dr. Ronny Jackson as President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs was inevitable as accusations of professional misconduct mounted. And this was only his first hurdle; there was little evidence that he had the skills to manage one of the nation’s most complex and important bureaucracies.
Jackson was not the first Trump nominee derailed by poor vetting. The White House must approach background checks with the urgency and seriousness they demand, or Trump’s administration will continue to struggle to fill its many vacancies and to govern effectively.
Poor vetting also led to the withdrawals of Trump’s nominees for secretary of labor, Navy secretary and two candidates for Army secretary. Several judicial nominees lacked basic legal knowledge and withdrew. Dozens of White House staffers couldn’t get full national security clearances. The White House office responsible for this process is understaffed and inexperienced. It’s embarrassing.
This is not a partisan issue. The Senate is united in bemoaning the White House’s lack of preparation on nominees requiring confirmation; Republican senators joined Democratic colleagues in expressing specific concerns about Jackson.
Jackson’s lack of managerial experience alone probably was disqualifying. Veterans Affairs is the federal government’s second-largest bureaucracy. It has a budget of $186 billion, employs more than 370,000 workers and serves more than 9 million veterans. The agency is also known for its dysfunction, which makes getting the right person to lead it all the more critical.
On top of that, many of its medical facilities are aging and falling apart, from Washington to Long Island. A report last year found that hundreds of Veterans Affairs buildings are in disrepair. The cost of fixing them: at least $18 billion. The agency’s new leader also must contend with a wrong-headed push from others in the administration to privatize veterans medical care.
Trump must right this ship, for our veterans and all the other important hires to come.