Biden names temporary VA leadership as his secretary nominee awaits Senate debate

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Veterans Affairs’ data and technology expert will serve as acting secretary for the entire department as the Senate considers the nomination of Denis McDonough to serve in the permanent Cabinet post.

Officials from the new administration of President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that Dat Tran, principal deputy assistant secretary for VA’s Office of Enterprise Integration, will serve as acting secretary until McDonough’s confirmation process concludes.

That could be a few weeks. McDonough is scheduled to testify before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Jan. 27. Senate officials have not yet released a final schedule for votes on any of Biden’s nominees.

Tran, has served at VA for the last 13 years, including roles leading the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics and the department’s Office of the Actuary.

Before VA, Tran was a staffer at the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, overseeing a host of oversight work for VA’s information and technology programs.

He is one of only a few holdovers from President Donald Trump’s administration, even on a temporary basis. Former VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, acting VA Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers and several other senior leaders were not asked to stay on in a transition role as their replacements await their official start dates.

Two who were asked to remain for now were Richard Stone, acting under secretary for health, and Carolyn Clancy, deputy under secretary for health. Stone, who has been the department’s lead on coronavirus response, will remain in his current role. Clancy will act as the department’s deputy secretary, overseeing a host of issues.

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Biden officials also announced a number of political appointees for other key roles in the department.

Meg Kabat, who led transition efforts for Biden on veterans issues, will serve as a senior advisor on family support and caregiver issues. Kabat previously worked as the head of VA’s Caregiver Support Program.

Kayla Williams will serve as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. She previously served as director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans, and also was on Biden’s transition team.

Terrence Hayes, former spokesman for the Veterans of Foriegn Wars, will serve as press secretary for the department. Ray Kelley, who had worked as majority staff director for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will be the department’s new Veteran Service Organization Liaison.

If confirmed, McDonough would be only the second non-veteran to be confirmed as VA Secretary. Biden has said he chose McDonough, a former chief of staff under President Barack Obama, because of his experience navigating federal bureaucracy and his ability to bring different agencies together to tackle VA challenges.

About

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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