The running sequence of negative publicity for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) looks increasingly likely to result in legislation that will make it easier to fire agency employees.
Action in the House on Changing VA Appeals from Employees
The VA Accountability Act passed the House on March 16, 2017. (See House Passes Legislation Making It Easier to Fire VA Employees)
H.R. 1259 would make it easier for the VA Secretary to expeditiously remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service (SES) employees, for performance or misconduct.
In addition, the bill would:
- Provide improved protection for whistleblowers;
- Allow the Secretary to reduce an employee’s federal pension if he or she is convicted of a felony that influenced a person’s job at the VA;
- Recoup a bonus provided to an employee who engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to receiving the bonus; and
- Allow the VA Secretary to recoup any relocation expenses that were authorized for a VA employee only through the employee’s ill-gotten means, such as fraud waste, or malfeasance.
The House bill has not passed the Senate. However, the topic is still alive and action is now being taken on this issue in the Senate.
Action in the Senate on Changing VA Appeals Process
Reportedly, an agreement has now been reached on a bill making it easier for the Veterans Affairs Department to fire its employees. The bill is part of an accountability effort championed by President Trump.
The Senate bill reportedly softens portions of the bill that had passed in the House in March. Senate Democrats criticized the House bill as being unfair to VA employees.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been working to have a Senate version of the House bill passed. Senator Rubio introduced the VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act (S. 152) in January 2017.
According to Rubio:
To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs.
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) is now backing the Senate bill to make it easier to fire VA employees and to make other changes outlined in the House bill. According to Senator Isakson:
When the VA cannot hold bad actors accountable, everyone loses. Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to helping our veterans. Other employees at the VA suffer because they are forced to work alongside or take direction from delinquent individuals. Most egregiously, our veterans suffer because the people responsible for caring for them are putting themselves first – not our veterans.
I am proud to introduce this bipartisan measure that will help create a culture of accountability at the VA by giving Secretary Shulkin the tools necessary to discipline bad employees in a timely manner while protecting whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation and ensuring the quality of care that our veterans receive at the VA.
As the Senate bill is not yet available in its entirety, it is not entirely clear how the House bill will be modified. The appeals process provided in the Senate bill would be 180 days instead 45 days outlined in the House version.
It is clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act improves the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the agency, shortens the removal process and prevents an employee who has been removed from remaining on the VA’s payroll while the decision is being appealed.
Also, appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be go before the Merit Systems Protection Board. Instead, these appeals would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline.
Additional Provisions in the Senate Bill
Also, the Senate bill would:
- Require the VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;
- Incentivize managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;
- Prohibit bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and
- Prohibit relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.
The Senate bill reportedly has support from Democrats and Republicans according to a press release from the office of Senator Isakson.
Isakson introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act with U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Additional cosponsors of the legislation include U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., John McCain, R-Ariz., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Also, the House Veterans Affairs’ Committee Chairman, Phil Roe (R-TN), who sponsored the House bill, has indicated he will support the changes in the Senate bill.