VA’s Shulkin blows his stack

Great CEOs keep the big picture in mind and make sure everyone knows where the organization is going. But they also know which details to bore in on when necessary, lest a localized problem blossoms into cancer.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin has bored into one situation like a dentist’s drill.

Often those localized details involve people. Like Brian Hawkins, the ousted director of VA’s Washington, D.C. Medical Center. I should say, almost ousted.

Shulkin fired Hawkins after an inspector general report detailed horrifying conditions and practices at the hospital. Hawkins got a lawyer and protested his dismissal. Because the Office of Special Council agreed to look into the case, the Merit Systems Protection Board ordered him reinstated pending the OSC’s decision.

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Insofar as one can deduce from a federal press release, Shulkin blew his stack.

“No judge who has never run a hospital and never cared for our nation’s Veterans will force me to put an employee back in a position when he allowed the facility to pose potential safety risks to our Veterans,” Shulkin said in the release.

Shulkin is not merely angry. He’s also determined to fire Hawkins. He’s going to use what you might call the Al Capone strategy. He’ll get him on the federal employment version of tax evasion.

A new IG report, according to the release, found that Hawkins and his wife used personal email accounts to transmit sensitive VA information. Shulkin will use a new law, the VA Accountability Act, designed to make it less cumbersome to fire senior executives.

The law cuts out the MSPB from the appeals process. It also shortens the time VA executives have to appeal demotions or firings.

I can’t speak to the detailed merits of Hawkins’ case. He might be the most wrongly aggrieved VA executive ever. The OCS will have to make that determination.

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The MSPB, in staying Hawkins’ removal, appears to be making a last-gasp stance regarding VA.

But clearly Shulkin is convinced Hawkins holds responsibility for conditions at the D.C. hospital. He’s likely thinking, if we can’t fire this guy, who can we fire?