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Veterans Affairs nominee pledges to put 'customer' 1st

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 8:54 p.m.

President Obama said on Monday he picked former CEO Robert McDonald to head the Veterans Affairs Department because his extensive management experience is needed to address problems at VA medical facilities.

“He knows the key to any successful enterprise is staying focused on the people you're trying to serve,” Obama said during a ceremony at VA headquarters. “Bob is an expert at making organizations better.”

McDonald, 61, a West Point graduate and Army veteran as well as former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, would take over a department wracked by mismanagement and criticism over long wait times and inadequate medical care at VA facilities.

The furor forced the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

“Let me state the obvious,” Obama told McDonald. “This is not going to be an easy assignment. Bob knows that.”

McDonald, saying he was honored to be nominated, pledged “a VA that is more effective, more efficient, and that truly puts our veterans first.”

The veteran, he said, “is our customer.”

In his remarks to VA employees, Obama said he is instituting rules so that anyone caught acting improperly — including falsifying information to improve the record on wait times — will be held accountable.

While the department has done excellent work over the years, Obama said, “we've got to change the way the VA does business ... we've got to fix some things that are broken.”

White House officials said McDonald's management experience drove Obama's decision to select him.

“Those management chops are going to be critical to his success, and they're going to be critical to ensuring that our country lives up to the commitment that we've made to our men and women in uniform,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Because of new rules limiting filibusters, Senate Republicans would be unable to block McDonald's nomination even if they were inclined to.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — who hails from the Cincinnati area, where Procter & Gamble is — endorsed McDonald, citing his experience “managing a complex organization.”

The VA secretary “will face significant challenges because of the systemic problems throughout the VA and their mismanagement of veterans' health services,” Portman said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Budget Committee and has been an outspoken critic of the VA, praised the McDonald nomination and said, “I am hopeful today's announcement will spark long-overdue change from the top down in order to ensure our veterans are getting the care and support they expect and deserve.”

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