By ROBERT PEAR for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, said Saturday he had been considered by President Obama for the job of secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, but had withdrawn his name and would stay at the clinic.
The statement by Dr. Cosgrove came as the White House searches for a successor to Eric Shinseki to lead the troubled department. Mr. Shinseki resigned on May 30 after reports that health care officials had concealed long waiting times for veterans seeking medical care at some veterans hospitals and clinics.
Finding a new secretary and cleaning up problems at the department have become urgent political matters for the president, who pledged in 2008 and 2012 to make the government more efficient.
Administration officials said the discussions with Dr. Cosgrove were still at an early stage when he withdrew from consideration.
Dr. Cosgrove, a heart surgeon, is a Vietnam veteran. Experts on military health care said it would have taken him months to master the sprawling bureaucracy of the veterans agency, which they said needs huge cultural changes and a management shake-up to solve its deep-rooted problems.
The department runs one of the nation’s biggest health care systems, a far-flung operation that treats 6.5 million people a year at 151 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics. It has more than 18,000 doctors and an annual budget of more than $57 billion. Dr. Cosgrove said he was “humbled and honored to have been considered for the opportunity to help veterans” across the nation.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision,” Dr. Cosgrove said, “but I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic, due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here.”
Dr. Cosgrove joined the Cleveland Clinic in 1975 and has been its president and chief executive since 2004.
“As a physician, veteran and hospital chief executive,” he said, “I have great respect for the care provided to the veteran community and for those who work to care for them.”
In his current job, Dr. Cosgrove presides over a $4.6 billion enterprise that includes the Cleveland Clinic, nine community hospitals and more than a dozen family health and outpatient surgery centers, as well as a hospital in Florida and a hospital being built in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
In the Republicans’ weekly radio address on Saturday, Representative Jeff Miller of Florida, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called on Mr. Obama to outline “a long-term vision for fixing what is clearly a broken system.”
“This is the biggest health care scandal in the V.A.’s history,” Mr. Miller said. “While the House and Senate work together to address these crises, we will also hold the president accountable.”