Weekly Columns

Accountability Within VA

f t # e
Washington, June 21, 2017 | Lani Short (202-225-6356) | comments

Most Americans in the workplace understand if they do not live up to the standards set by their employer, there may be consequences. While holding private-sector employees accountable is common, many government employees – particularly those working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – have abused the system. These bad employees are failing in their duty to serve our nation’s veterans, many without disciplinary action, and something needs to be done.  

Since becoming Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’ve worked to bring accountability to the department. A recent study completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that it takes, on average, six months to a year to remove a permanent civil servant in the federal government. Oftentimes, it takes much longer.

In the past several years, VA’s civil service rules have kept the department from firing  an employee who engaged in an armed robbery; from recouping $400,000 in relocation benefits from two senior employees who abused their authority; and from holding employees accountable for their failures to manage major construction projects, including the new hospital in Aurora, Colorado that is now several years and nearly a billion dollars over-budget.

Even worse, VA said it would have taken up to a year to fire a nurse who assisted in a veteran’s emergency surgery while under the influence of alcohol. The lack of accountability at the VA isn’t just a failure to our heroes, it’s dangerous. As I’ve said time and time again, the vast majority of VA employees – many I consider friends – are good, hard-working people. However, the bad actions of a few are tainting the good name of many, and it’s time to bring real change to the department.

That’s why, just last week, the House of Representatives passed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017. This legislation, based largely off a bill I authored that passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this year, provides the VA Secretary increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for poor performance or misconduct. It will also provide improved protections for whistleblowers, who have proved to be invaluable in uncovering and addressing issues within the department.

Right now, it takes up to 264 days for an appeal to move through the process when trying to remove a bad employee. The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will speed up that process, giving the department the ability to bring in and retain quality people while also more quickly bringing finality to VA employees who have appeals pending. 

President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law this week and I am thankful for the leadership we’ve seen from the president and Secretary Shulkin as they’ve pushed tirelessly to bring wholesale reform to VA. Our nation’s veterans deserve the highest quality medical care and most efficient delivery of benefits possible. By signing this important piece of legislation into law we will be one step closer to reforming VA for once and for all.

As always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family. 
f t # e
Tags: Veterans