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Taking the First Step at Veterans Affairs

11:12 AM, Jul 1, 2014 • By MICHAEL ASTRUE
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No “immediate action” occurred. Schoenhard’s supervisor has acknowledged that he saw that April 2010 memo, but he did not clamp down on hundreds of decentralized and resistant fiefdoms. In other words, a self-interested senior official thwarted the person who understood the problem and tried to do the right thing—a highly predictable outcome given the agency’s organizational structure. An agency head cannot count on managers running major operations to be transparent about their management problems; President Reagan’s “trust but verify” should be embraced by the head of any large organization. 

On Monday President Obama announced the nomination of Robert McDonald, a veteran and a former CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations, to be the new secretary of Veterans Affairs. It’s a good choice. The new secretary should streamline his bloated front office until it has no more than five direct reports; Congress needs to support him when special interest groups complain that components dedicated to their special interests are “demoted.” One of those five direct reports should be a chief quality officer—independent of the operational components—with line control over the employees in charge of quality in the field. The healthy tension created by this reorganization and a commitment to a culture of quality would give the VA a chance to heal.

Michael Astrue served as commissioner of Social Security from 2007-2013.       

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