VA Boss Eric Shinseki Resigns Amid Heated Scandal.

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Eric Shinseki has resigned as head of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs after taking significant heat for the most serious scandal the VA has faced in decades. Shinseki, a former 4-star Army General, has presided over the the VA for 5 years, during which time hundreds of veterans faced healthcare delayed by months, with at least 40 veterans dying while on the waiting list.

As Fox News reports:

The president announced that Shinseki would resign after they met at the White House and he received an update on an internal review of the problems at the VA. The review showed the problems were not limited to just a few facilities, Obama said, adding: “It’s totally unacceptable. Our veterans deserve the best.”

On the heels of those and other findings, Obama said, “Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation — with considerable regret, I accepted.”

He said Shinseki told him he did not want to be a distraction. “I agree,” Obama said. “We don’t have time for distractions. We need to fix the problem.”

Earlier Friday morning, Shinseki publicly apologized for the failures in the VA system. Responding to an interim inspector general report which found “systemic” problems with clinics misrepresenting patient wait times, Shinseki also announced he would oust senior leaders at the Phoenix VA, where allegations of improper scheduling practices first surfaced.

A bureaucrat has resigned amidst an internal scandal. What a surprise. Thome’s Rule of Government #982: “Nobody is ever fired.” Shinseki will resign with a fat pension and live out his remaining years in quiet disgrace. But hey! He’s got a fat pension, and the government will probably never bring criminal charges against him. So he’s got nothing to worry about.

Personally, I can’t believe that Shinseki accepted leadership of the VA. The Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs is notorious for inefficiency and leading claimants on wild goose chases through the bureaucracy. This scandal is blowing up only just now, due to some internal leaks and whistleblowers who can prove it unequivocally; but I think most people have known for years that this sort of thing goes on. Why would anyone accept responsibility for an organization like that? Shinseki had to have had at least some inkling (if not full knowledge) that the VA was operating like this. But he never gave any indication. He spent his time jet-setting across the nation giving feel-good speeches to audiences of old vets, not tending to internal problems.

Shinseki is a career bureaucracy man. He went from 38 years in the military, to being a consultant and lobbyist for Defense Contractors, to holding the directorship of the VA. This is a man whose life career has consisted of “check all the boxes, stay out of trouble, hide bad news, and collect a paycheck.” He probably thought heading the VA would be like the rest of his career had been: smooth sailing and basically without risk. The bureaucrat’s dream… a job without risk, where years and tenure are all that really matter.

Shinseki said he was “mad as hell” at the revelations of massive delays and patient deaths. I’m sure he was “mad as hell” – mad that this information leaked out before he got a chance to do something with it. This just goes to show how woefully dysfunctional bureaucracies like the VA really are. All of this bad news was being bottled up by mid-level administrators for years. This is an organization where hiding bad news was not the exception, but the norm and the expectation. I’m sure Shinseki had an inkling this was happening, but I doubt he really knew the full extent, because the whole organization under him was doing it’s damndest to hide any piece of bad news. Nothing terrifies bureaucrats (public or private sector) more than delivering bad news to a superior. This rocks the boat and threatens little bureaucratic empires.

High-level bureaucrats want to deliver good news to their bosses, so they demand good news from the mid-level bureaucrats. The mid and low-level bureaucrats therefore do their best to meet their boss’ expectations and deliver nothing but good news. The bad news is squirreled away under the rug. The good news travels up the chain, and everyone is happy; except for the veterans, in this case, but who really cares about them?

This behavior was most evident in the agricultural bureaucracies of the Soviet Union and Communist China. Communist Party leaders wanted to hear good news from the commissars of collective farms. The news to deliver was rarely good. Collective farms were notorious for low production. But it wouldn’t do the bureaucrat in charge any good to report the bad news. That would probably get them fired at best, and sent to a prison camp or executed at worst. So these bureaucrats would submit reports of record harvests and abundant production to the central government because really, why submit anything other than good news? It didn’t pay to tell the truth. So the central government would boldly announce years of record harvests and abundance, even though the starving common man knew it wasn’t true.

Now Shinseki is on the outs. Some new clod will step up to the plate and be tasked with reforming the VA. For a few years, the VA probably will get better. Any vet needing medical care or benefits had better apply now and strike while the iron is hot. But after a few years, the public will forget about the VA scandal. All of the mid and low-level bureaucrats who were engaged in this behavior will still be there; once the heat begins fading away, the VA will return to it’s old tricks This is the principle of regression to the mean. What we’re seeing in the VA, the delays and red tape, are the norm. The brief improvement we’ll see at the VA over the next few years will be the exception. It will not be long before the VA returns to the norm.

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