Legislation Reintroduced in Congress to Make It Easier to Fire VA Employees

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By on March 3, 2017 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate this week to make it easier to fire VA employees for misconduct or poor performance.

The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 was introduced in the House (H.R. 1259) by Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and in the Senate by Marco Rubio (R-FL). The bill would provide increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for poor performance or misconduct.

Roe stated in a press release that the Government Accountability Office found that it takes, on average, six months to a year for the government to fire a permanent civil service employee, although it can frequently take even longer. He also said that former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified at a hearing that it was too difficult to fire VA employees for non-performance. Roe said these were reasons the legislation was needed to reform the agency.

Congressman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN)

Congressman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN)

Legislation Provisions

Pension Reductions

The bill would allow the VA Secretary to reduce an employee’s pension if he or she was convicted of a felony which influenced his/her job performance. The employee would be entitled to advance notice, an opportunity to respond to the order, and the opportunity to appeal the Secretary’s final decision before the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. This appeal would have to be completed within 30 business days after the appeal has been filed by the employee.

Disciplinary Action Based on Poor Performance or Misconduct

The bill would allow the VA Secretary to fire, demote or suspend for longer than 2 weeks without pay any VA employee for performance or misconduct. This also would apply to all Senior Executive Service employees.

The employee would be entitled to:

  • Advanced written notice and an opportunity to respond. This period shall not exceed 10 business days and then the Secretary shall provide a final decision within 5 business days of receiving the employee’s response;
  • Expedited appeal to an administrative judge at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the appeal must be decided within 45 business days and the administrative judge would be required to uphold the removal, demotion, or suspension if it is supported by substantial evidence and the administrative judge would provide deference to the Secretary’s decision regarding punishment for the offense;
  • Further appeal to the full MSPB Board; and
  • Limited judicial review of the MSPB decision by the U.S. Federal Circuit.

Recouping Bonuses

The bill would allow the VA Secretary to recoup bonuses or awards paid out to employees if the Secretary determines that the employee engaged in poor performance or misconduct prior to receiving a bonus, and the bonus would not have been paid if the employee’s poor performance or misconduct was known at that time.

Prior to taking the action, the employee would be entitled to advance notice of the proposed order, an opportunity to respond to the order and the opportunity to appeal the Secretary’s final decision to the head of another agency or department within the Federal Government. This appeal would have to be completed within 30 business days after the appeal has been filed by the employee.

Recouping Relocation Expenses

The bill would allow the VA Secretary to recoup relocation expenses paid to an employee if the Secretary determines that the employee committed an act of fraud, waste, or malfeasance.

Prior to recouping the money, the employee would be entitled to advance notice of the proposed order, an opportunity to respond to the order, and the opportunity to appeal the Secretary’s final decision to the head of another agency or department within the Federal Government. This appeal would have to be completed within 30 business days after the appeal has been filed by the employee.

Other Provisions

The bill would also include improved protections for whistleblowers and give the VA Secreatry direct hiring authority for Medical Center directors and Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) directors.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Related Legislation

The VA Accountability First Act has been introduced in the past but ultimately failed to advance. That hasn’t stopped renewed efforts in Congress this year to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, however.

Similar legislation to the VA Accountability First Act was also introduced earlier this year in both the House and Senate. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act also would make it easier to fire VA employees for poor performance, strengthen whistleblower protections and reform the VA’s disability benefits appeals process. It was introduced in the House by Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and the Senate by Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The House also passed legislation in January that would require all reprimands and admonishments given to VA employees to remain permanently in their records for the duration of their employment. See House Votes to Have Reprimands Remain Permanently on VA Employees’ Records

“For far too long, incompetent and uncaring employees at the VA have been allowed to fail at their jobs but still keep them,” said Senator Rubio. “In the past, we’ve passed measures to institute accountability but lacked a president and VA secretary who would actually implement them and fire VA employees who are failing our veterans. Now it’s time to finally provide our veterans with the quality, efficient health care they have earned and deserve, instead of protecting the big labor unions seeking to keep the status quo of incompetence and malfeasance.”

A summary of the legislation is included below.

VA Accountability First Act of 2017 Summary

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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