The Veterans Affairs Department is elevating some more political savvy into its senior ranks.
Rob Nabors, the former Office of Management and Budget deputy director for budget and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, is taking over as the new chief of staff for VA Secretary Bob McDonald.
Nabors replaces Joe Riojas, who has served in the chief of staff role since July 2013.
“Joe has been a wonderful partner to me since I arrived in July of last year, advising me and helping guide this Department on the crucial journey we are on now. Like everyone at VA, I have benefited from his sage judgment, and I’m going to miss having him right next door to me,” McDonald wrote in an email to VA staff, which Federal News Radio obtained.
Riojas and Nabors will work together for the next month or so to make the transition smooth, McDonald said.
“While we will miss Joe, he is leaving us a good road map to allow us to better fulfill our most sacred mission — to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and their families,” McDonald wrote.
It’s unclear what Riojas will do next as McDonald’s email just said he would “pursue other senior leadership opportunities.”
Nabors moved to VA in May where he served as a senior advisor, coming to the agency after the VA patient scheduling scandal became public.
Riojas has been with VA since May 2009, starting out as the assistant secretary for Operations, Security, and Preparedness (OSP). He served 29 years in the Army before retiring as a brigadier general.
McDonald’s decision to elevate Nabors is an interesting one.
One source says Riojas is well-respected around VA, but was brought in by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, so it makes sense for him to leave now and let McDonald bring in his own chief of staff.
Nabors’ decision to stick around VA is a rarity. Typically after spending six years in the White House, executives look to the private sector.
But Nabors’ decision to continue to serve at VA means the agency will have an even stronger connection to the White House, and someone who understands how Capitol Hill works. VA has been under severe pressure from lawmakers over the last year or so after the initial reports of problems with the patient scheduling system, and issues have mounted from cybersecurity to the construction project in Colorado to inspector general findings of procurement fraud and abuse.
In addition to his time at OMB, Nabors also worked for the House Appropriations Committee as a staff member and rising to staff director for the minority.