A substantial House majority approved a reform package that would penalize Department of Veterans Affairs employees found guilty of wrongdoing and prompt the department to more intensely scrutinize supervisors' protection of whistleblowers.
The legislation came in response to scandals swirling around the veterans' care agency. Three hundred and sixty eight members voted for the bill. Only 55 members, 54 of whom were Democrats, voted against it, sending the legislation to President Donald Trump's desk for approval, the Washington Examiner reported. The Senate approved the measure last week.
Under the legislation, the VA can more easily dismiss employees and can punish them by restricting bonuses or relocation expenses.
While public unions opposed the legislation, the head of at least one veterans group publicly supported it.
Policy Director of Concerned Veterans for America, Dan Caldwell, claimed that “lives will be saved as a result of this legislation.” David Cox Sr., president of American Federation of Government Employees, suggested the bill created a “witchhunt.”
On February 28, 2017, Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. introduced the VA Accountability First Act of 2017. The House passed this legislation March 16, 2017. The bill would provide the VA Secretary increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for performance or misconduct.
It would also provide improved protections for whistleblowers; would allow the Secretary to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their job at VA; recoup a bonus provided to an employee who engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to receiving the bonus; and would allow the 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. A recent study completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that, on average, it takes six months to a year, to remove a permanent civil servant in the Federal Government, though it often takes longer. Just last year, former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified at a hearing that it was too hard to fire bad employees at VA.
In the past several years, VA’s arcane civil service rules have hampered the department’s ability to dismiss an employee that engaged in an armed robbery; discipline a VA nurse that participated in a veteran’s surgery while intoxicated; and hold employees accountable for the continued failures to manage several major construction projects, including the new hospital in Aurora, Colorado, that is now several years and a billion dollars over budget.
Original co-sponsors: Rep. Jodey Arrington, Rep. Jim Banks, Rep. Jack Bergman, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Rep. Mike Bost, Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, Rep. Brad Wenstrup.
On May 11, 2017, Senators Rubio, Isakson and Tester introduced accountability legislation in the Senate. Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Walz released a statement in support of the Senate bill. Chairman Roe and Senators Isakson and Rubio penned an op-ed on the bill for Military Times. You can read it here.
The Senate passed accountability legislation on June 6, 2017. The House passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act on Jun 13, 2017. You can read more about the legislation here.
- See more at: https://veterans.house.gov/115th-congress-legislation/accountability.htm#sthash.djh9KvF6.dpuf
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