The VA Accountability First Act of 2017
On February 28, 2017, Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. introduced the VA Accountability First Act of 2017. The House passed this legislation March 16, 2017. The bill would provide the VA Secretary increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for performance or misconduct.
It would also provide improved protections for whistleblowers; would allow the Secretary to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their job at VA; recoup a bonus provided to an employee who engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to receiving the bonus; and would allow the Secretary to recoup any relocation expenses that were authorized for a VA employee only through the employee’s ill-gotten means, such as fraud waste or malfeasance. A recent study completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that, on average, it takes six months to a year, to remove a permanent civil servant in the Federal Government, though it often takes longer. Just last year, former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified at a hearing that it was too hard to fire bad employees at VA.
In the past several years, VA’s arcane civil service rules have hampered the department’s ability to dismiss an employee that engaged in an armed robbery; discipline a VA nurse that participated in a veteran’s surgery while intoxicated; and hold employees accountable for the continued failures to manage several major construction projects, including the new hospital in Aurora, Colorado, that is now several years and a billion dollars over budget.
Original co-sponsors: Rep. Jodey Arrington, Rep. Jim Banks, Rep. Jack Bergman, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Rep. Mike Bost, Rep. Mike Coffman, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, Rep. Brad Wenstrup.
On May 11, 2017, Senators Rubio, Isakson and Tester introduced accountability legislation in the Senate. Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Walz released a statement in support of the Senate bill. Chairman Roe and Senators Isakson and Rubio penned an op-ed on the bill for Military Times. You can read it here.
Full Bill Text
Press Release: Chairman Roe Introduces Legislation to Bring Accountability to VA
Press Release: HVAC Passes Five Bills Out Of Committee
Chairman Roe Op-Ed: The VA must be held accountable. Here's what Congress needs to do.
Chairman Roe, Sens. Isakson and Rubio Op-Ed: VA Bureaucracy Continues to Protect Bad Employees, Hurt U.S. Troops
The American Legion
Association of the United States Navy
Concerned Veterans for America
Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States
Fleet Reserve Association
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Military Officers Association of America
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Reserve Officers Association
Student Veterans of America
United States Army Warrant Officers Association
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
What They're Saying
“We have witnessed first-hand why it is imperative to have stronger accountability measures for VA employees. This bill gives the Secretary of VA the authority to take necessary action against negligent employees, such as recalling their bonuses and relocation expenses. Accountability is a major challenge for VA and this bill addresses accountability challenges with specific measures. – Student Veterans of America’s President Jared Lyon in letter of support on March 1, 2017
“For far too long, underperforming employees have been allowed to continue working at VA, simply because the processes for removal are so protracted. The VFW believes that employees should have some layer of protection, but that true accountability must be enforced for those unable to meet performance standards. This is critical to ensuring VA consistently provides the highest quality services, as well as continuing to restore veterans' faith in the Department.” – Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States’ Director of the National Legislative Service Carlos U. Fuentes in letter of support on March 7, 2016.
“The focus on accountability in this proposal strikes a reasonable balance to ensure VA leadership has the ability to manage personnel while affording due process protections to VA employees. We recognize that the question of due process is an important one, and those rights should not be eliminated. However, they cannot be used as a roadblock to accountability either. – Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Carl Blake in letter of support on March 1, 2017.
“The large majority of VA employees serve veterans with distinction, but there are employees whose poor performance or, at worst, gross negligence, put veterans at risk. They need to immediately be removed from the VA to restore trust within the VA system. IAVA believes that this legislation provides the VA leadership those necessary authorities while still providing due process.” – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Legislative Director in letter of support on March 6, 2017.
“The ability to reward good employees and hold poor employees accountable is essential to any high-performing organization. Unfortunately, events in recent years have made it clear to MOPH that VA lacks the necessary authority to punish, remove, and recoup the performance bonuses of employees who were found to have endangered veterans, misused government funds, and otherwise underperformed in their duties. While we understand that VA cannot simply fire its way to success, we feel that improvements to these authorities made by this legislation are critical to allowing VA to function as it should, while also maintaining veterans’ trust in their VA. – Military Order of the Purple Heart’s National Commander Hershel Gober in letter of support on March 1, 2017.
“The VA has been failing veterans for years, in part because it is nearly impossible to terminate bad employees who continually reinforce a toxic culture within the department. Until poorly-performing and negligent VA employees understand there will be consequences for misconduct, the ongoing reports of fraud, abuse, and neglect will continue. The VA Accountability First Act of 2017 will help to correct the toxic culture within the VA by empowering VA leadership with the ability to get the bad employees out faster.” – Concerned Veterans for America’s Vice President for Legislative and Political Action Dan Caldwell in letter of support on March 3, 2017.