New bill gives VA secretary power to fire any employee

The Veterans Affairs secretary would be able to fire any agency employee for bad performance or misconduct, under legislation introduced April 23.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said the VA Accountability Act would give the agency sweeping new authority to fire corrupt or incompetent employees.

The VA secretary was already given the authority to more easily fire senior executives, under legislation passed by Congress in 2014. This bill would expand that to all agency employees, who would then have only seven days to appeal the decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB would then have 45 days to decide on the removal appeal.

The bill comes as the agency works to improve accountability in the wake of a wait list manipulation scandal. Veterans groups and lawmakers have said the VA has not done enough to punish VA employees who manipulated wait lists and scheduling systems to boost performance numbers – putting veterans at risk.

Initial investigations showed systemic wait list and medical care issues and forced the resignation of then-secretary Eric Shinseki. Current VA secretary Bob McDonald – who was sworn into office July 30, 2014 - has vowed to improve accountability and strengthen oversight over patient-care programs.

Miller said that more than a year after the scandal broke, the agency has only attempted to discipline eight people for manipulating hospital wait times, while two facility leaders have been on paid leave for more than a year. None were successfully fired.

" Even worse, rather than disciplining bad employees, VA often just transfers them to other VA facilities or puts them on paid leave for months on end, ensuring taxpayer money is wasted and that bad employees spread their problems to other locations," Miller said. "The department's overwhelming lack of accountability in the wake of the VA scandal is precisely the type of situation that makes the average citizen lose faith in their government and causes quality health care professionals to think twice when considering to work at VA ."

The legislation also:

Requires that all probational periods for new VA employees lasts for 18 months, instead of just one year. It would also allow the VA to extend the probatgionary period – during which an employee can more easily be fired – for as long as seen fit.

Limits the VA's authority to remove or demote an employee whistleblower as long as they have filed a claim with the Office of Special Counsel.

Mandate the Government Accountability Office conduct a study of VA time, space and resources devoted to union activities.

" That's why our focus remains on giving the VA secretary more tools to ensure corrupt and incompetent executives face serious consequences for mismanagement and malfeasance that harms veterans," Miller said.

Veterans groups are also sounding out in support of the bill.

"VA employees need to understand that if they harm veterans, then they will be fired. This bill delivers on that idea and is worthy of our support."– Veterans of Foreign Wars National Legislative Service Director Raymond Kelley said.

Matthew Miller, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans chief policy officer, said the organization supports the legislation and its increased firing authority.

" This expands upon the legislation that increased accountability at the Department through the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which IAVA supported to enact reforms to ensure our veterans can receive the highest level of care possible," Miller said.

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