Possible New Bill to Discipline VA Employees
Following a series of scandals within the Veterans Affairs offices, government officials are seeking legislation that would permit Bob McDonald, Veterans Affairs Secretary, to fire or discipline employees faster and more efficiently. If the bill passes, this could create an opening for other federal employees to face termination with less red tape.
Republican Representative from Florida and Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Jeff Miller, sponsored the legislation and said he hoped lawmakers could compromise on a bill that would still protect employee’s rights to appeal a firing but also reduce how long the appeals process could drag out.
Overcomplicated Firing Policies
Miller told reporters that the firing policies at the VA office seem over complicated. “Where I come from, when you’re fired, you’re fired. You walk out the door that day … What you hear from the VA is, “We’ve given notice.” To me, that’s not firing somebody.”
Representative Miller’s comments come only days after a Congressional hearing in which several leading Veterans Benefits Administration officials were to testify regarding allegations that they had misused funds to the sum of over $400,000 to better their job titles as well as forcing other employees to take different jobs.
During the hearing, a top official with the VAB told leaders that rules designed to protect federal employees from unlawful termination actually made it more difficult to fire those involved in the scandal.
“We still have to try to root out some of the culture that is in the VA that is more about taking care of the bureaucrat than taking care of the veteran. Until that is done, I don’t think the VA will be operating on all eight cylinders,” Miller told reporters.
Lack of Accountability
He went on to say the biggest problem with the VA is that there is a lack of accountability. Despite several resignations, early-retirements and several firings of employees, Miller believes the VA needs to address the source of the problem.
While the House passed the bill in early July, efforts to get the bill passed the Senate floor have failed so far. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a democrat from Connecticut said that the bill did not pass not because they disagreed with the cause but because they want to work to ensure that this type of change would not negatively affect whistle blowers.
Miller said that he intends to work closely with Blumenthal to ensure that would seek compromises that would offer maximum satisfaction of both the House and the Senate.
Despite positive reception to the bill, some leaders feels that some changes may be necessary. Representative Tim Walz, a democrat from Minnesota said that he was interested in ensuring more accountability within the VA, but he worried that the legislation could cause issues down the line. He argued that administration can get rid of bad employees they just don’t do it.
“People need to be fired, but I would make the case that [leaders] could have done [their] job better and not given bonuses to an under performing employee and move them somewhere else,” Walz said.
If the bill passes, it could serve as a lead in for cases against other federal employee terminations.