The long-awaited omnibus VA reform bill made its debut on April 28, proposing stark changes in how the agency disciplines senior executives charged with wrongdoing.

Most controversially, the bill proposes to remove the Merit Systems Protections Board from the appeals process, requiring executives to appeal directly to VA Secretary Bob McDonald.

As expected, the proposal would shift VA SES members from Title 5 status to Title 38 status, which gives the VA more flexibility in compensation, but also moves the employee discipline and appeals process in-house.

The move comes after months of the VA attempting to punish or, in some cases, fire executives accused of wrongdoing in several high-profile cases, only to see those overturned by the MSPB, a quasi-judicial agency meant to adjudicate civil service disputes.

The omnibus bill would give McDonald expedited authority to hire and fire executives and shortens the removal and appeals process for all VA employees.

It also gives VA the power to reduce benefits for SES members accused of certain crimes, a nod to the case where two VBA executives were accused of misusing their positions for financial gain before being cleared by the MSPB board on appeal.

The VA must also conduct an outside review of its management training for senior executives and requires annual performance plans for all political employees.

Other measures include:

  • Prohibits the VA from paying an appellant appealing a removal.
  • Puts limits on the paid administrative leave an appellant can have while being investigated.
  • Prevents probationary employees from obtaining permanent jobs unless they have successful performance records.
  • Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing.

The bill is expected to court fervent discussion from multiple sides of the issue, including both legislators clamoring for stronger accountability measures and federal unions and associations who have criticized the reforms as an attack on employee rights.

"News of this deal is a positive development. If what Sens. Isakson and Blumenthal are working on passes the Senate, I look forward to immediately engaging in conference committee negotiations in order to move a VA reform package to the president's desk," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

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