The Veterans Affairs secretary could directly fire or demote a senior career civil-service official under legislation proposed by Rep. Jeff Miller on Tuesday.
Miller, R-Fla., introduced the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, aimed at reducing the "considerable amounts of red tape" currently needed.
The legislation would make the process for firing a high-ranking civil servant largely the same as firing congressional staffers—who are considered at-will employees—taking away the notification and appeals rights currently offered.
Miller said he pressed forward with the legislation because of what he views as a "widespread and systemic lack of accountability" at the VA, including "preventable" veterans deaths at VA facilities and a "well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable." Miller said his bill would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki the authority needed to fix what Miller views as a long-standing leadership issue in the department.
A recent report found that 82 veterans have died, are dying, or have been seriously injured because of delay in treatment or diagnosis connected with colonoscopies and endoscopies. But it's unclear if anyone involved at the VA was reprimanded, demoted, or fired for the delays.
And it's not the first time Miller has pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Obama administration. Miller has criticized the VA for giving bonuses without a clear tie to performance. And a provision in Miller's veterans' tuition legislation that passed the House earlier this month would ban bonuses for high-ranking VA civil servants through fiscal year 2018.
There is one stipulation though: Within 30 days of removing an official the secretary would have to notify members of the Veterans Affairs committees of the removal and the reasoning behind it.
"This legislation would give VA leaders a tool to address a problem that continues to get worse by the day. VA's widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems, including the department's stubborn disability-benefits backlog and a mounting toll of at least 31 recent preventable veteran deaths at VA medical centers across the country," Miller said in a statement.
Sen. Marco Rubio introduced similar legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.
The veterans legislation isn't a complete surprise. Miller said last month before President Obama's State of the Union address that if "Obama and VA leaders refuse to instill a culture of accountability and transparency at VA, Congress will be forced to take legislative action."