Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL) is giving personnel reform measures at the Department of Veterans Affairs another go. He introduced a bill this week that would make a number of reforms, among which include instituting changes designed to hold agency employees more accountable for wrongdoing.
The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 (H.R. 5620) contains these key proposals:
- Shortening the firing/demotion/appeals process for rank-and-file VA employees from more than a year on average to no more than 77 days
- Removing entirely the Merit Systems Protection Board from the firing/demotion/appeals process for VA senior executives
- Providing VA whistleblowers with a means to solve problems at the lowest level possible, while offering them protection from reprisals and mandating strict accountability for those who reprise against them
- Giving the VA secretary the authority to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses from misbehaving employees
- Giving the VA secretary the authority to reduce the pensions of senior executives convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance
- Reforming the department’s broken disability benefits appeals process
If some of these reform proposals sound familiar, it is because similar ones have been put forth in other bills in the past.
Miller introduced a comparable bill last year, the VA Accountability Act (H.R. 1994). That bill would make the process of firing VA employees easier and would also provide additional whistleblower protections. It passed the House but has not advanced further in Congress.
Miller also introduced a bill late last year that would give the VA secretary authority to recoup relocation expenses from agency employees. It has, to date, only been reported by Committee and not passed the House.
In a statement about his motives for introducing this latest bill, Miller said:
“The biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform is the department’s pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels. Until this problem is fixed once and for all, long-term efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail. For too long, union bosses, administration officials and their enablers have used every trick in the book to help VA bureaucrats who can’t or won’t do their jobs remain firmly entrenched in the agency’s bureaucracy. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act of 2016 gets rid of these loopholes, which have been unfairly forcing veterans and the many good VA workers to deal with deadwood employees for years. Union bosses and defenders of the broken status quo will oppose this bill, and that is exactly why it must become law.”
Not all VA reform bills coming out of the House have been targeting the disciplinary process of agency employees, however. Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) recently introduced a bill designed to reform the VA’s hiring process by making changes such as setting up a system-wide database of available positions where candidates can be considered for multiple jobs and streamlining the process for rehiring former VA employees.