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Miller Announces Legislation to Help Bring Much-Needed Accountability to VA

Feb 11, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller will introduce the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, legislation that would give VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and future VA secretaries complete authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service or equivalent employees based on performance. Current law ostensibly allows SES workers, a group representing the bulk of VA’s senior leaders, to be disciplined and fired, but there are considerable amounts of red-tape involved and the process can drag on for long periods of time. Chairman Miller’s bill gets rid of this red tape in an effort to give the VA secretary authorities similar to those members of Congress have to fire employees from their staffs. In Fiscal Year 2012, there were 448 career SES employees working at VA.

The bill was developed in response to reams of evidence indicating a widespread lack of accountability in the wake of 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. More than a dozen instances of this trend are documented on the VA Accountability Watch portion of the HVAC website. In each instance, VA SES executives who presided over mismanagement or negligence were more likely to receive a bonus or glowing performance review than any sort of punishment.

Despite the fact that multiple VA Inspector General reports have linked many VA patient care problems to widespread mismanagement  and GAO findings that VA bonus pay has no clear link to performance, VA officials have consistently defended their celebration of executives who presided over poor performance.

Because of VA’s failure to address these problems, Chairman Miller wrote to President Obama in May 2013 asking for the president’s personal involvement in addressing VA’s management and accountability issues. Months later, Chairman Miller received a response from VA Secretary Shinseki – not President Obama – that failed to mention any specific actions the department has taken to hold its executives accountable for mismanagement.

Following announcement of the bill, which will be introduced today, Chairman Miller released the below statement:

“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. While the vast majority of VA’s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hard-working, the department’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes is tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it. With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That’s what my bill would do.  – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs