Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned today after politicians from both sides of the aisle called for him to go. There was simply too much evidence of mismanagement and possible criminal fraud at VA medical facilities and in benefits claim processing. Shinseki tried to stretch the nation’s patience past it’s snapping point, but the VA Inspector General sealed his fate on Wednesday. According to a May 30 LA Times report, the Inspector General report was a scathing indictment that gave Shinseki no way out of responsibility for long standing, known issues with patient scheduling.
President Obama accepted Shinseki's resignation after he praised the man, but admitted that it "is time for a change." According to a May 30 NBC News article, the president called Shinseki a "very good man" and a "champion of our veterans,"
The most damning indictment of Shinseki’s leadership was the phrase “inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic across the system.” When that wording is used, there is no way the top leader can dodge responsibility by claiming not to know about the problem. This is because any leader worth a pinch of salt is supposed to find out about large scale systemic problems. This is done through regular audits, no-notice investigations and paying attention to complaints and whistle blowers.
Secretary Shinseki did not endear himself to the public when he claimed to be "mad as hell" about the scandal. He expressed his anger with the facial expression of a driver sitting at a red light.
Shinseki had a distinguished military career where he achieved the rank of four star General, but he ultimately made a name for himself in 2003. He spoke at a single hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was one of the few who would go against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and tell the truth about the Iraq invasion. General Shinseki said that an invasion could involve “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers.” Rumsfeld insisted that the invasion could proceed with a much smaller force.
As the darling of everyone who hated Rumsfeld’s disastrous mistakes, Shinseki appeared to be a good choice for VA Secretary. Some people looked past appearances however. They questioned whether President Obama was choosing Shinseki for his symbolic value, not as an administrator who could get things done.
Shinseki committed the cardinal sin that brings down many big department heads: He retreated into invisibility, refusing to meet with veterans organizations, rarely making headlines and dodging exposure to the public he claimed to serve. He bought into the academic ivory tower model of working behind the scenes. He failed to achieve results in areas that matter. He was miserable at taking responsibility for his own lack of leadership.
Shinseki only sees himself resigning because he “is a distraction,” not a failed administrator. This needs to be said many times until it incorporates into the public conscience: In the military and in government, a complete lack of faith in a person’s leadership capability is the most damning performance assessment possible. Shinseki earned that complete lack of faith, fair and square. He should have resigned earlier. Instead, he kept promising to throw other people under the bus while demanding more patience for himself.