Okay, there's a big job opening now in the Washington area -- a cabinet post. It's the position of running the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There's probably not a less desirable position right now as the scandals and systemic problems have blown wide open. There's trouble in this most important Veterans division and it's not going to be solved by the normal political appointment to someone who's been faithful to the president and gets tabbed onto the cabinet to fulfill a political favor.
This time it's different. Whoever takes this job is most likely going to fail. At best, he or she will be under such scrutiny that they'll be tested beyond most mortal breaking points.
Let's face it, the VA is on life support. Without a heart transplant, the patient will never recover.
So what's a president to do? Fortunately President Obama is getting a lot of suggestions. Here are the top five, according to a report from The Hill: (abridged)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal who was forced to resign from his position as a top commander in Afghanistan [because he couldn't control his personal staff], Retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli who served in the Obama administration as the former vice chief for the Army, Retired Admiral Michael Mullen who chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff in both the Bush and Obama administrations and finally, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) who is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress.
All of these folks are serious contenders to replace VA Secretary General Shinseki. And all of them are WRONG.
First off, the problems with the department are not military. They are organizational. They require a man or woman who can handle the demands of building a corporate structure from the ground up. The new leader doesn't need to know how to handle a weapon or understand the horrors of war. They need to understand a monetary bottom line and hospital administration. We saw what a stellar job General Shinseki did during his stint. He may have been a terrific military general and leader, but he didn't have a scintilla of skills in hospital administration. He was clueless as are the other military leaders on this list. So strike off McChrystal, Chiarelli and Mullen. Brave military personnel, sure. But knowing how to build a hospital's cost-effective flow chart, not so much.
That leaves Reed and Walz. Start with Reed. A lawyer, he might be able to see some of the issues but again, this isn't a legal problem, it's structural. And even more important, the control of the Senate is in the balance this year. No reason for another Democratic-held senate seat to be put in play. So Reed's out.
Finally that gives us Walz. He's a good guy, a military background capping out at sergeant. Hardly admiral or general, but again, rank isn't the issue here. This is a hospital and health care problem. When Walz wasn't in the army, he was teaching history. Good for him. And good for us. But not good for the job at hand.
So where should Obama turn? Why to the Republicans, of course. As this is a thankless job and there's really no one outside of the political realm with the skill set to handle it, there are two choices. One is grab a hospital administrator from a flourishing medical organization or... wait for it-- pick a sitting GOP senator. Even one not up for reelection this year. Put their seat into play to increase the chances for the Democrats to keep control over the Senate.
Here are a few names --Roy Blunt. Maybe take him out of the Senate and his state's Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon will appoint a Democrat there. Or how about a lady like Kelly Ayotte? Maybe this whole thing needs a woman's touch. And coming from New Hampshire, with a Democratic Governor, she could be replaced with a Democrat. Certainly John McCain and Lindsay Graham would be losing their shadow, but if it's for the good of the country they could never vote against her. The same could be said for Senator John Boozman from Arkansas or Mark Kirk from Illinois. Both their states have a Democratic governor.
Obama should see this opening as a legacy opportunity. He can save the back half of his second term if the Senate stays blue. The VA isn't going to be fixed over night, but with a Republican in the position of having to fix things, it's never going to work and yet the GOP won't be able to stymie any legit chances to make changes, even if it's going to cost money. Remember, 44 senate Republicans voted against increasing the VA's budget. So this becomes a win-win for Democrats and more importantly, for our brave veterans.
Hopefully Obama and his advisers are listening.