Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, who had to explain the theft of agency computer files containing personal data on millions of veterans and active service members, announced Tuesday that he is resigning.
The 69-year-old Nicholson, who is returning to the private sector, is the latest in a lengthening line of senior officials heading for the exits in the final years of the Bush administration.
Nicholson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has headed the Veterans Affairs Department since February 2005. Before that, he was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Nicholson also headed an interagency task force of seven Cabinet officers that President Bush set up in response to problems with patient care at 261-bed Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington. The administration had been embarrassed earlier this year by revelations of shoddy care for veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nicholson, who oversaw a vast network of 1,400 VA hospitals and clinics that provide supplemental care and rehabilitation to 5.8 million veterans, defended the administrations performance on veterans issues but conceded there was room for improvement.
Nicholson came under harsh criticism by Congress after it was revealed in May 2006 that VA computer files with personal data, including Social Security numbers, for 26.5 million veterans and active-duty personnel, were missing. Burglars had stolen computer equipment from a data analysts Maryland home. Law enforcement officials recovered the laptop and hard drive about two months later after being tipped by an informant who'd heard about a $50,000 reward and knew where they could be found. -- by the Associated Press