The White House has appointed an acting VA information chief who repeatedly clashed with career staff at two agencies and was accused in a recent lawsuit of sexually harassing a fellow employee on Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign.
The new acting chief information officer, Camilo Sandoval, is a former director of data operations for Trump’s 2016 campaign. He and other political appointees at the VA had warred with former Secretary David Shulkin, leading to Shulkin’s ouster last month. Shulkin accused them of pushing to privatize the VA's health services.
The appointment was announced at an agency staff meeting Wednesday morning on the eve of confirmation hearings for VA nominee Ronny Jackson. Sandoval, a former Air Force intelligence officer and American Express and Merrill Lynch employee, worked at Treasury following Trump's election but was confined to a basement office after clashing with career staff, POLITICO reported last May.
Sandoval eventually moved to the VA last year, and was reported in numerous news accounts to have conspired to get Shulkin fired. VA spokesman Curt Cashour did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his appointment as chief information officer.
In November, Jessica Denson, a woman who worked in Hispanic voter outreach for the Trump campaign, filed a $25 million lawsuit in Manhattan charging that Sandoval slandered, harassed and sexually discriminated against her in violation of New York City’s human rights laws.
The suit alleges that after campaign CEO Steve Bannon promoted Denson in the summer of 2016, Sandoval threatened her, saying, “I hired you and I can fire you.” In the following months, she contends in the suit, he began a rumor campaign aimed at discrediting her, and the campaign failed to come to her defense.
The campaign “compounded a slander crusade executed by Sandoval” that included the claim she was responsible for an illegal leak of Trump’s taxes, “perpetuating a climate of fear and terror for the extent of her employment and beyond,” the suit says.
Neither the White House, nor Sandoval, immediately responded to a request for comment. Sandoval replaces acting CIO Scott Blackburn, who resigned Tuesday and who led a variety of health IT projects at the agency under former Secretaries Bob McDonald and Shulkin for the past four years. VA IT sources said Blackburn had planned to leave after Shulkin’s departure.
Sandoval will presumably play a central role in the VA’s planned $16 billion, 10-year transformation to a Cerner Corp. electronic health record — the largest, single government health IT contract ever. Shulkin in December put the project on hold while he sought more technical commitments from Cerner, but it’s expected to be signed soon by Jackson, assuming the Senate confirms him as VA secretary after a hearing next week.
Democrats on the Senate Veterans‘ Affairs Committee have expressed skepticism about Jackson’s experience, however, and about his commitment to maintaining the VA health system as the country's largest government-owned provider.
The VA hasn’t had a permanent CIO since LaVerne Council resigned in January 2017 during the change in administration.