Recent scandals have put the Department of Veterans Affairs on the defensive when it comes to service and accountability.

The trend seemed to continue at a Sept. 16 Senate hearing looking into proposed legislation to fix problems at the beleaguered department.

In a testy exchange, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D.-Ct., called upon Thomas Lynch, the VA's assistant deputy under secretary for Health Clinical Operations, to support two accountability bills to reform the department, after the latter expressed concerns that could have a chilling effect for providers.

"We acknowledge that [S. 1856] is less onerous than other [bills]," Lynch said. "I think from a clinical standpoint, my concerns would be that these bills may impair our ability to attract and recruit and retain the best employees because of the more rigid accountability that VA is held."

Blumenthal was having none of it, though,

"In Connecticut, and elsewhere, doctors welcome accountability. The good ones do, because they are far from fearful that they would be held accountable, and I would think managers are the same," he said.

"They don't come to a place wondering what will happen to them if they do a bad job. The best people come to an opportunity hoping that there will be the flexibility so they can do a good job."

The debate centered around two bills, S. 1856—sponsored by Blumenthal— and Sen. Jerry Moran's, R.-Kan., S. 290.

S. 1856, known as The Department of Veterans Affairs Equitable Employee Accountability Act of 2015, would allow for suspension and removal of VA employees for performance and misconduct, as well as further accountability measures.

S. 290 also calls for accountability measures within the VA, reducing annuities for any employee convicted of a felony that influenced performance while at the department. The bill also sets up a performance appraisal system for senior executive employees.

In submitted testimony, Partnership for Public Service president Max Stier expressed support for both bills, but asked for clarifying language and clear statutes to address those responsible for the recent mismanagement, and set up better communication within the department.

"To bring about real reform at VA, it is not enough to get rid of a few bad apples; the Department must fundamentally change the way it manages its talent," he said.

American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox Sr. also offered support for S. 1856.

"In addition to the work of front-line employees, S.1856 is the only real path toward accountability at the VA," he said in a statement. "It ensures swift accountability for anyone who threatens veterans' care without eliminating the vital rights of every other hardworking VA employee. It is clearly the only solution that addresses concerns on both sides of the aisle."

Both AFGE and PPS presidents expressed concerns that a third VA reform bill, Sen. Marco Rubio's, R.-Florida, S. 1082, could unintentionally silence whistleblowers with expanded powers given to department management to remove employees.

The bills are designed to combat the corruption that emerged within the department, including manipulating wait lists and statistics in order to get reward incentives.

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