Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) is introducing legislation that would give the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary sweeping new authority to fire corrupt or incompetent employees for cause.
The bill, known as the VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994), would do the following:
- Give the secretary the authority to remove any VA employee based on performance or misconduct. The employee would have the right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of their removal, and the MSPB would have to make a final decision on the removal within 45 days of the appeal submission. Legislation providing the Secretary authority to remove VA senior executive service employees in a similar manner sailed through Congress and was signed into law by the president last August.
- Limit the secretary’s authority to remove or demote an employee if they are a whistleblower who has filed a claim with the Office of Special Counsel.
- Require that all probationary periods for new VA employees last for at least 18 months – instead of the current period of one year. It would also give the secretary the authority to extend this probationary period as he sees fit. When an employee’s probationary period ends, their immediate supervisor would be required to make an affirmative decision that the employee is qualified for their position before full civil service protections are granted.
- Require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of VA time, space and resources devoted to labor union activities.
Miller is introducing the legislation in response to what he calls a “long and well documented history of [the VA] not holding problem employees accountable.” Miller also notes that very few employees were fired in the wake of the news of the scandal first breaking at the agency and that more than a year after being put on paid leave, two top officials at the Phoenix VA are still being paid.
“Rather than disciplining bad employees, V.A. often just transfers them to other V.A. facilities or puts them on paid leave for months on end,” Miller said in a statement. “VA’s tradition of transferring problem workers, putting them on paid leave or simply allowing them to go virtually unpunished continues because current civil service rules make it extremely difficult to properly hold employees accountable. I know this because high-ranking VA officials – people who work directly for the secretary – have told me so behind closed doors.”
Congress enacted similar legislation that made it easier for the department to remove about 400 high-ranking officials, however that bill did not change rules for the rank and file.