General Eric Shinseki has just resigned as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (For the full Obama press conference, click here for the C-SPAN video). If you haven’t been following the news lately, there has been a lot of controversy of veterans getting the appointments they’ve needed:
“Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities. … A preliminary report released Wednesday by the department’s inspector general corroborated many of the most disturbing accusations and offered a grim portrait of widespread mismanagement at the medical center in Phoenix. The report said investigators were finding similar problems at other veterans hospitals around the country.”
When President Obama took office, in his first term, he had a record three Asian American cabinet secretaries: Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce, Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, and General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs (and Chris Lu was the cabinet secretary). Most cabinet secretaries don’t last more than one term, and Shinseki was one of the few to have lasted more than one term.
Obviously, this “scandal” is not the best way to depart an administration. However, the manage a huge bureaucracy like the Department of Veterans Affairs – with over 280,000 employees with a 2014 budget of $150+ billion dollars – is not easy. The on-going wars of Iraq and Afghanistan that Obama inherited certainly exacerbated the issue of serving the increasing number of injured veterans that needed to car for. After the jump, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart gives a nice summary of the issues veterans have faced in both the Bush and Obama administration.
General Eric Shinseki had a distinguished career, and I most admired him as when he was Army Chief of Staff speaking truth to power regarding his pre-war concerns about invading Iraq, publicly stating that the U.S. would need several hundred thousand soldiers to maintain stability for postwar a Iraq. Unfortunately, Shinseki did not do a full press court on countering the prevailing image that he and his department were not putting in 110% effort to investigate and correct any issues uncovered. And in politics as well as in life, perception is reality.
The issues with the Department of Veteran Affairs are directly being compared to Obama’s handling of the launch of the Obamacare website last fall – a lack of focus on execution once the policy has been put in place. Whatever the reality is and whoever’s fault these issues have been, the American people do want to know that their tax dollars are being put to good use and used as efficiently as possible. So it’s no surprise that Shinseki is the “fall guy.” Being a cabinet secretary for too long can be professionally dangerous, and it’s too bad that Shinseki himself didn’t decide to retire on better terms after Obama’s first term ended.