Palace intrigue in the White House regarding the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs continued on Wednesday with the Trump administration’s announcement that Peter O’Rourke has been named acting VA secretary.
O’Rourke, who previously served as the VA’s chief of staff, succeeds former Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie, whom the president has selected for nomination as VA secretary.
In the meantime, the agency announced that Wilkie has returned to his prior position at the Department of Defense, where he serves as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. President Trump named Wilkie the agency’s acting secretary in late March, following the ouster of then-VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD.
Earlier this month, Wilkie made the decision to finally award Cerner a $10 billion electronic health record modernization contract to replace the VA’s decades-old legacy EHR system, culminating nearly a year of negotiations with the vendor.
In addition, VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman is “re-entering retirement effective June 15,” according to Wednesday’s announcement by the agency.
This is the latest in a series of senior executive changes that have plagued the VA.
In April, acting chief information officer Scott Blackburn resigned from his duties. And, last month, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson—President Trump’s nominee to serve as VA secretary—withdrew from consideration for the job amid allegations he had fostered a hostile work environment and behaved improperly while heading the White House medical team.
Earlier this month, members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives sent a letter to VA Deputy Secretary Bowman expressing their concerns about what they perceive as a leadership vacuum at the agency. In particular, the senators and congressmen said the VA’s Office of Information Technology has 553 staffing vacancies that are negatively impacting the agency.
“In the last four months alone, 40 senior staffers have resigned, effectively stalling operations in essential areas such as information technology,” said lawmakers in their letter. “The historic overhaul of the VA’s outdated health record system requires adequate staffing levels to ensure this project succeeds. Anything less than a robust workforce is a disservice to veterans, VA employees, and tax payers.”
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