Veterans Affairs officials will have to keep waiting for their next permanent head of benefits operations after a Republican senator on Tuesday announced his plan to block the White House’s nominee for the post over unresolved whistleblower allegations concerning the department.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the move is both a general reprimand to the department and a specific complaint leveled against Joshua Jacobs, the nominee to serve as VA’s Under Secretary of Benefits. Jacobs is currently working in an acting capacity in that leadership role.
“Because of VA’s lack of transparency on critical issues and Mr. Jacobs’ evasive answers on a number of my questions, I must object to any consideration of this nominee,” Grassley said.
The move for now sidelines hope of filling VA’s top five leadership posts with Senate-confirmed personnel, something that hasn’t happened in more than six years.
The White House’s previous nominee for the post, Ray Jefferson, withdrew his name for consideration last summer after several lawmakers raised concerns about his previous work leading the Veterans Employment and Training Service during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Jacobs appeared headed for an easy confirmation vote after facing no opposition during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last month. But Grassley’s move stops that momentum, and calls into question when a full chamber vote on Jacobs could occur.
Grassley listed multiple ongoing whistleblower cases as the reason for his block, including one concerning conflict of interest issues involving a former senior VA advisor, one on VA’s handling of privacy data, and one on the firing of a whistleblower by a senior VA leader in 2021.
The senator said VA has not provided information on outstanding questions regarding each case, despite multiple requests from his office. He laid some of the blame regarding the lack of response on Jacobs, who has served in his current leadership role in an acting capacity since last summer, calling his responses “unsatisfactory” and “disappointing.”
“I am more than willing to discuss with the VA and Mr. Jacobs how they can remedy the deficiencies in their responses,” Grassley said. “This hold is a reminder that executive agencies have an ongoing obligation to respond to congressional inquiries in a full and timely manner.”
VA officials referred all questions on the hold to the White House. A White House official in a statement noted that “Jacobs was reported out of committee unanimously on a bipartisan basis, and we look forward to the next steps in the confirmation process.”
Holds of nominees over issues unrelated to the candidates themselves are atypical but not uncommon. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., is currently blocking several Defense Department nominees over his complaints about Defense Department policies regarding travel rules for personnel seeking abortion services.
Grassley did not offer any timeline for when he would relinquish his hold. Senate Democratic leaders could still force a vote on the nomination, but doing so would require significant procedural moves and floor time.
The Department is scheduled to have another vacancy among its top leadership posts in coming weeks, with Deputy Secretary Donald Remy set to leave federal service on April 1.
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.