House approves bill to fast-track firing of VA employees

The House recently passed a bill that would make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fire problem workers for misconduct or poor performance. Unlike past VA accountability legislation, the latest proposal would fast-track discipline against all department employees, especially senior executives.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Florida, introduced the legislation in July. The VA Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act emerged in response to a federal appeals board reversing disciplinary actions against VA executives involved in an employee relocation scam earlier this year.

“This bill is trying to give the [VA] secretary the tools he needs in order to hold employees accountable,” said Miller. He described the lack of employee accountability as. “the biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform.”

The measure would reduce the amount of time workers have to respond to proposed disciplinary action or termination. It would also set a time limit for the appeals board to decide a case involving VA employees. Senior executives would no longer be able to appeal to an independent review board. In addition, the VA secretary would have the power to overturn rulings that are in favor of employees.

While supporters said the reform legislation is necessary for improving the culture within the department, not everyone is certain firing more employees is the right step. The VA and a federal employee union expressed concerns about the proposal’s constitutionality. President Barack Obama’s administration issued a statement saying that focusing on firing or demoting employees without adequate protections is misguided. It would strip VA employees of their rights.

A similar accountability measure has been stalled for months in Senate. VA Secretary Robert McDonald said the department supports the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s bill. The less-punitive proposal would give the VA secretary more authority to discipline senior executives.

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