Republicans Look to Help Obama Clean House at Veterans Affairs

Legislation introduced Tuesday would make firing a senior civil-service employee at the VA nearly as easy as firing a congressional staffer.

National Journal
Jordain Carney
Feb. 12, 2014, 7:04 a.m.

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.”

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