Should Eric Shinseki resign? Or be fired? There are several reasons to say no:
- Knee-jerk calls for resignation from the guy at the top every time something goes wrong in a big bureaucracy are wearying.
- Shinseki inherited a lot of problems, and there’s good evidence that he’s worked hard to improve things at the VA. The fact that some problems still remain is hardly damning.
- The specific scandal involving secret waiting lists isn’t really a sign of bad management.
- The tradition of top managers resigning as a symbolic show of responsibility is dumb. Let’s leave that to the British and the Japanese.
You may find all of these more or less persuasive depending on your general temperament. Personally, I find them all moderately persuasive. That said, there’s one really good reason for the guy at the top to resign when something like this happens: It’s a lot easier for a newcomer to make sweeping changes if that’s what’s necessary. No matter how committed Shinseki is to fixing this problem, he’s hemmed in by five years of decisions he’s already made. He’s emotionally committed to a certain way of doing things; to a certain set of subordinates; and to policies that he’s implemented. A new VA chief wouldn’t be. Nor would a new VA chief be under a cloud. He’d have the active support of Congress and the president to take a fresh look at things.
Unfortunately for Shinseki, this one reason is probably sufficient. In a sense, it’s unfair. Nonetheless, human nature being what it is, a new VA secretary would most likely have more freedom to make the changes necessary to fix the VA’s problems and more support to get them done. For that reason, yes, Shinseki should probably go.
UPDATE, Friday, May 30, 11:15am ET: President Obama is delivering a statement live from the White House.
UPDATE 2: Shinseki has resigned.