After years of complaining about a troublesome Veterans Affairs bureaucracy, Congress next week will send President Donald Trump a bill making it easier for the VA secretary to fire or discipline poor-performing employees.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says his chamber next week will vote to clear legislation giving VA Secretary David Shulkin greater authority to “expeditiously remove, demote or suspend” ill-performing employees or those guilty of misconduct.
If enacted, it will be the first law passed in years to beef up VA accountability.
The legislation was inspired by horror stories coming out of the department — including the VA’s struggle to dismiss a psychiatrist caught watching pornography while seeing a patient. It’s also part of an ongoing effort to overhaul the VA culture, which came under intense scrutiny three years ago amid reports that veterans were waiting months or sometimes years to receive care.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the matter, and ever since, Congress has tried to steady the troubled agency.
“Somebody is a bad character, doing a lot of bad things that couldn’t survive anywhere else, but you can’t get rid of them?” McCarthy said of the VA’s culture. “That attitude goes away here.”
The House has passed a slew of VA accountability bills since the wait times scandal broke years ago. But none could ever gain enough Democratic support to clear Senate.
The version sent to the president is a bipartisan compromise struck by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and ranking member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), as well as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The measure passed the Senate by voice vote Tuesday.
The bill would permit the VA secretary to remove, suspend or reprimand a senior executive with a 21-day internal grievance process. The legislation would also allow the secretary to discipline non-senior executives with a 180-day window to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. And it would permit the VA to recoup bonuses and relocation benefits earned due to malfeasance or misconduct and allow the secretary to claw back senior executives’ pensions if employees were convicted of felonies related to their VA work.
Ahead of the planned vote, the compromise measure drew praise from House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Tim Walz (D-Minn.).
"In order to bring wholesale reform to VA, we must give Secretary Shulkin the tools to fire or discipline employees who don’t live up to the standards expected of those serving our nation’s heroes," Roe and Walz said in a joint statement. "The legislation sent to the House will create the culture of accountability at VA that America’s veterans deserve, while preserving VA employees’ rights, and we look forward to supporting this bill on the House floor."
During the week of June 17, the House will also vote on the Workforce Development and a Stronger Society bill, which McCarthy says will allow more Americans to enter the workforce with skills needed to compete in the jobs market.