Hon. Tim Walz
It is clear that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) current performance review and performance pay systems are part of the problem. We owe it to the thousands of professionals at the VA who are doing things right, and, most importantly, we owe it to the veterans in their care to get this problem fixed.
I echo the GAO recommendation that the performance pay program must have a stated overarching purpose. That purpose must be improving health outcomes for veterans. This is the only thing that matters, and this is the only reason the VHA should exist.
With the purpose of the program established, VA will need to standardize the performance pay and award policies across the country. Again, it must focus on improving health outcomes for veterans, and this should be true throughout the VA. It does not make sense to have over 150 individual performance pay policies as is currently the case. This system is ripe for the type of gaming and abuse that got us into this mess. It is also impossible for the Secretary to provide oversight when there is not a consistent policy. In fact, as we look to the future of VA reform, national standardization of the VA should be a pillar of any organizational reform we seek to undertake.
Development of this program must be done in a clear and transparent manner, leveraging expertise and opinions from veterans, doctors, staff, and specialists. The starting point for all that we do has to be the veteran; if we are going to improve their health outcomes, we have to get them directly involved in the process. I encourage the VA to leverage the Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) to accomplish this. Performance management and awards have been a part of medicine for a long time, and there are best practices in both the private and public sector which we can leverage. In the end, I call on the VA to solicit input from everyone, and, as they rebuild their performance management program, the VA must do so in a transparent, open manner. I also expect the VA to keep this body informed of all developments and to work with us to ensure whatever program is developed is efficient, effective and provides the best outcomes for veterans’ health.