Scope of the Position:
The Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) manages an organization that houses five agencies and departments and employs roughly 335,000 federal personnel. The Deputy Secretary is responsible for much of the day-to-day management of the broader VA. The Department has a current annual budget of $170 billion.
Illustrative Management Challenges:
The VA has been under sustained scrutiny over the last few years. Perhaps the most visible scandal that has arisen is that of the access veterans have to the very care they were promised. Access was at the heart of the scandal over the cover-up of long wait times that years later continues to rock the department.1 Yet behind the scenes, the VA has not gotten any better, even if it appears to have improved from an outsider's perspective. There has been an investigation into the misappropriation of Department funds for the benefit of SES position holders. In late 2015, the OIG identified salary increases that did not consistently reflect changes in the position's scope of responsibility; plus, when the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) filled vacant SES positions, the selectees often received significant annual salary increases over what their predecessors were paid.2 In addition, there has been an extremely widespread misuse of the VA's network infrastructure. VA employees improperly used Yammer.com, a web-based collaboration technology, which was not approved or monitored as required by VA policy.3 Furthermore, Yammer made VA vulnerable to users uploading--on purpose or accidentally--personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), or VA sensitive information, of which any current of former employee remaining active on the site would have access. The Deputy Secretary will need to continue to fight internal corruption in the VA.
In recent years, the multitude of VA scandals have brought attention to the policies in place that dictate how certain employees may be disciplined in the wake of inappropriate or unlawful behavior. "The biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform is the Department's pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels. Until this problem is fixed once and for all, long-term efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail," said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL).4 Chairman Miller issued these remarks when introducing a bill that would give the VA more power to discipline employees by shortening the time employees have to respond when upper management proposes discipline against them. It also required the Merit Systems Protection Board to issue a decision within 60 days. The issue of the VA's disciplinary policies will surely place the Deputy Director firmly in the spotlight as he or she enters a new administration.
1VA health care is both good and in need of 'dramatic change'; washingtonpost.com; July 8, 2016.
2Administrative Investigation: Inappropriate Use of Position and Misuse of Relocation Program and Incentives in VBA; va.gov/oig; September 28, 2015.
3Administrative Investigation: Improper Use of Web-based Collaboration Technology, Office of Information and Technology; va.gov/oig; August 17, 2015.
4House tries again to give Veterans Affairs Department more power to discipline employees; washingtonpost.com; September 13, 2016.
Deputy Secretaries of Veterans Affairs:
Almost all VA Deputy Secretaries have some sort of military background, although the length of service varies. As is common with the healthcare and benefits industry, a strong private or public sector background in these areas is critical for appointment to and success in this position. Many previous Deputy Secretaries have held senior positions with healthcare-related government agencies and committees, private sector healthcare providers, and healthcare-centric nonprofit organizations.
Sloan D. Gibson (2014-present): Before his appointment, Gibson was the CEO of the United Service Organizations (USO), where he would drastically improve fundraising and program growth. Prior to that he served as the Vice Chairman and CFO of AmSouth Bancorporation. He graduated from West Point and earned both Ranger and Airborne status from the U.S. Army.
Previous Deputy Secretaries:
W. Scott Gould (2009-2013): W. Scott Gould currently serves as the Managing Director for the management consulting firm AVA Partners. Gould's previous positions included Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs at CareFirst, Vice President at IBM Global Business Services, CFO and Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Commerce Department, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance and Management at the U.S. Treasury Department, and a Captain in the U.S. Navy.
Gordon H. Mansfield (2004-2009): Prior to becoming the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mansfield served as the VA's Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, the Executive Director for Paralyzed Veterans of America, as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a private practice lawyer in Florida, and he was in the U.S. Army. Mansfield received his JD from the University of Miami.
Leo S. Mackey (2001-2003): Mackey is currently serving as Vice President of Lockheed Martin Corporation. Mackey's previous positions included Vice President of Corporate Business Development with Lockheed Martin, President of ICGS in collaboration with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, COO of ACS State Healthcare in Atlanta, and Vice President of Bell Helicopter Textron. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. Mackey received his JD from Concordia Lutheran Seminary.
Edward A. Powell, Jr. (Acting) (2000-2001): Powell most recently held the position of President and CEO of the USO World Headquarters. Prior to his appointment as Deputy Secretary, Powell served as the VA's Assistant Secretary for Financial Management. He previously served in the Navy Reserve, including on assignments for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Hershel Wayne Gober (1993-2000): Gober is currently the National Legislative Director for The Military Order of the Purple Heart. Gober's previous positions included Arkansas Director of Veterans Affairs, Arkansas Department of The American Legion, JROTC Senior Instructor, Director of the Northwest Alaska Pipeline, and he was a U.S. Marine for over 20 years.