A bipartisan group of Senators rolled out legislation on Thursday that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to swiftly handle poor-performing employees.
The bill, the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, overhauls long-standing civil service protections that the President said he would enact to hold the VA accountable.
The draft legislation would allow the VA secretary to remove, suspend or reprimand a senior executive within a 21-day internal grievance process. Further, the secretary could discipline non-senior executives within a 180-day window to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.
It would also ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.
The House passed similar legislation in March to make it easier to fire or demote VA employees with poor performances, but it’s unlikely to gain enough Democratic support in the Senate to pass.
The agency has been under fire since the wait time scandal three years ago, where employees covered up the length of time veterans had to wait to receive healthcare at VA hospitals. Some managers and staff were fired for falsifying appointment records. The real delays resulted in the deaths of dozens of veterans who were forced to wait to see a doctor.
“When the VA cannot hold bad actors accountable, everyone loses,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate VA Committee said in a statement. “Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to helping our veterans.”
“Most egregiously, our veterans suffer because the people responsible for caring for them are putting themselves first – not our veterans,” he said.
Isakson said this bill would provide the VA secretary the necessary tools to discipline poor employees and improve the quality of care for veterans.