Robert Wilkie, former President Donald Trump’s secretary of Veterans Affairs, counts among his achievements cleaning house at the department as he blames controversies under his watch on a Democratic “hit.”
The former Trump administration official also described President Joe Biden's team as weak on China during a Monday interview with the Washington Examiner.
Wilkie was one of Trump’s longest-serving Cabinet members, in office from March 2018 until January 2021 and implementing widespread organizational changes that lifted the department's approval ratings as the then-secretary excused employees who were performing poorly. Still, Wilkie's tenure was peppered with controversies, including an accusation that he squashed a sexual assault investigation and left female veterans feeling unwelcome at VA hospitals.
“We had relieved almost 9,000 people of their duty,” Wilkie said of his success overcoming workers unions to fire underperforming VA employees. “That's unprecedented in the federal government.” He was named this week to be a visiting fellow at the Heritage Center for National Defense.
Wilkie argued that the moves revived morale and motivated those employees who had been picking up the slack, ultimately helping to lift the VA’s approval rating among veterans.
“We inherited a VA from the Obama and Biden administration that had a 37% approval rating, and we left it with 90% for healthcare,” he said. Wilkie said he helped “change the trajectory of the institution, meaning not to protect the institution but to ensure that veterans had the maximum amount of choice.”