U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation today aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by making it easier for the VA Secretary to fire poorly-preforming employees.
The legislation aimed at holding VA employees more accountable would also create new protections for VA whistleblowers and ensure that employees who are terminated have an adequate opportunity to appeal their dismissal.
“This bill will help the VA provide better care to our veterans by removing the bad actors and protecting the good ones,” Nelson said. “The brave men and women who have served our country deserve nothing but the best, and this bill is another small step in ensuring that they receive the care they deserve.”
For years, the VA has been plagued by reports of inefficiency and long wait times. VA Secretary David Shulkin has repeatedly expressed support for legislation to hold VA employees more accountable.
The legislation filed today is the third bill Nelson has sponsored in as many years to hold VA employees more accountable. Nelson says that while he believes it’s important to hold poorly-performing employees accountable, he also believes it’s important to protect the rights of those employees who may have been wrongly terminated, especially at the lower levels, by giving theman opportunity to appeal a supervisor’s decision to fire them.
Specifically, the legislation filed today would:
- Authorize the secretary to reprimand, suspend, involuntarily reassign, demote, or remove a covered individual from a senior executive service position, including removal from civil service, if the secretary determines that their misconduct or performance warrants such an action, subject to a VA-internal grievance process established by the secretary that must be completed within 21 days.
- Authorize the secretary to remove, demote, or suspend for longer than 14 days without pay, subject to an appeal of their removal or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) for most non-senior executive service (SES) employees. The MSBP would then have 180 days to complete an expedited appeal and render a final decision, subject to judicial review by the U.S. Federal Circuit.
- Protect whistleblowers from retaliation by not allowing the secretary to use this authority to fire employees who have filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The proposal would also establish an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection for employees to bring to light major problems at the VA without losing their job or facing retaliation.
- Streamline authority for the secretary to rescind an employee’s bonus or relocation expense reimbursement if the secretary deems it appropriate, and allow reduction to an SES employee’s retirement pension upon their conviction of a felony related to work performance.
- Require the VA to provide periodic training to each supervisor on the rights of whistleblowers; how to address a report by an employee of a hostile work environment, reprisal, or harassment; how to effectively motivate, manage, and reward employees; and how to effectively manage employees who are performing at an unacceptable level.
- Authorize the secretary to directly appoint individuals to the positions of Medical Center Director and Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) if they have demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration, or health care fiscal management.
- Require the VA to provide reports to Congress on employee morale and the types of administrative action taken against employees and their effectiveness in disciplining employees.
Full text of the legislation is available here.