Another one bites the dust at VA

Jonathan Kaupanger
April 18, 2018 - 2:32 pm

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The revolving door of Veterans Affairs leadership continues to turn. This time, VA’s acting Chief Information Officer is walking out and the former director of data operations for the President’s 2016 campaign is moving in.

Scott Blackburn, VA’s head IT person resigned effective immediately Tuesday, via Twitter. He wrote, “From leading the MyVA transformation under Secretary McDonald to serving as interim deputy secretary and then acting CIO under Secretary Shulkin, everyone that knows me understands that I have given my heart and soul to VA.”

Blackburn started at Veterans Affairs in 2014. His last position as acting CIO began in October 2017. Blackburn took the lead on the agency’s implementation of the Electronic Health Record modernization project, which is now estimated to be a $16 billion, ten year project.  Blackburn didn’t mention the deal in his letter but did say that he would remain, “both VA’s biggest cheerleader and critic from afar.”

Camilo Sandoval, the Trump campaign’s director of data operations was named acting CIO the following day. Sandoval is a former Air Force intelligence officer and worked at Treasury. As reported in Politico, his time at Treasury wasn’t smooth and in fact was shoved in a basement office after fighting with career Treasury staff.     

In November, a woman who worked in Hispanic voter outreach for the Trump campaign filed a $25 million lawsuit that states that Sandoval slandered, harassed and sexually discriminated against her. According to the lawsuit, Sandoval threatened Jessica Denson by saying “I hired you and I can fire you.” And later, again according to the suit, he started a rumor campaign to discredit her. 

Sandoval's promotion isn't going over well with everyone. “President Trump’s naming of a profoundly inexperienced campaign staffer accused of sexual harassment to serve as VA’s Chief Information Officer is disturbing, unacceptable, and another sad illustration of this Administration’s disregard for our nation’s veterans” said Rep. Walz, the highest ranking enlisted servicemember ever to serve in Congress. “At a time of implementation of critical VA initiatives, such as the modernization of VA’s electronic health record system and confronting an aging IT infrastructure, this is a profoundly bad decision that disrespects those who have worn our nation’s uniform. I, once again, call on the President to put his own narrow and selfish agenda aside and put our veterans first.”

Almost all of VA’s senior leadership is in an acting position now, including the secretary and undersecretaries for both Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefits Administration