Letters Showcase Spat Between Lawmaker and VA Deputy Secretary Over Bonuses for VA Employees

The Deputy Secretary of the VA is unhappy about a law recently passed that limits awards and incentives for VA employees. However, the Chairman of the House VA Committee made it clear he won’t budge on repealing the bonus restrictions.

A pair of letters exchanged between VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson and House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) highlight a dispute over bonuses for VA employees.

At issue is the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA) and restrictions it replaces on bonuses and incentives for VA employees.

Gibson sent Miller a letter on December 19 asking that his Committee immediately begin work to “repeal the counter-productive, multi-year restrictions on employee awards and incentives that were enacted [under CARA]”.

Gibson states that the restriction under the law requires a nearly 20% cut in total awards and incentives for VA employees FY 2017.

Gibson adds, “While such reductions might have been warranted had the Department of Veterans Affairs been profligate in its prior years’ spending on employee awards, they are entirely unwarranted given that VA has voluntarily reduced its awards spending year over year…”

Miller wasn’t about to take Gibson’s demands lying down. The next day, Miller sent a letter back to Gibson declining his demand to repeal the restrictions on VA employee bonuses.

“We did not take the decision to limit employee compensation lightly and are aware that performance bonuses – while never guaranteed in the private sector – do provide a productivity incentive,” wrote Miller. “Recognizing the possible impact to those providing care on the front lines, Congress included language in Section 951 which encourages VA to prevent lower-paid VA employees from being unduly impacted by these cuts. However, the bottom line is we felt strongly that facilitating the recovery of veterans suffering from addiction was far more important than bankrolling employee bonuses.”

Miller noted in his letter that the decision making process in developing CARA was done publicly, and that ultimately stakeholders involved in the process agreed that “a limitation on VA employee awards and incentives offered the best option for redirecting limited resources towards immediately impacting the lives of fragile veterans suffering from addiction.”

Outside of his letter, Miller released a public statement in which he criticized VA leadership for their request to repeal the bonus restrictions in the bill:

Clearly, the judgment of VA leaders is clouded by their continual obsession with cash bonuses, awards and incentives for employees even in the face of the ongoing scandals plaguing the agency. Imagine how much better off the department and our veterans would be if VA leaders spent more time focused on fixing the agency’s many problems rather than appeasing bureaucrats and union bosses.

It appears the bonus restrictions are likely to stay in place given Miller’s response and the fact that the legislation has already been signed into law.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.