House Again Attempts to Give Veterans Affairs Department More Power to Discipline Employees

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The House on Tuesday will take up another of a string of bills designed to give the Department of Veterans Affairs a freer hand in disciplining its employees for poor performance or misconduct — provisions the Obama administration has opposed, although not to the point of threatening a veto.

The bill would shorten the time that employees are given to respond when management proposes discipline against them, including firing, and would also require the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent agency that hears appeals of disciplinary actions, to issue a decision within 60 days.

For senior executives, the time to respond also would be restricted, and they could appeal only to an internal VA review board. The discipline would stand by default if that board did not issue a decision within 21 days, and even rulings in favor of the employee could be overturned by the VA secretary.

The right to pursue appeals into federal court would remain, although that, too, would be restricted.

“The biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform is the department’s pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels. Until this problem is fixed once and for all, long-term efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said when introducing the bill in July.

The House plans to take up the bill late Tuesday with final voting expected Wednesday.

In a policy statement released late Monday, the White House said it is “deeply concerned” about those provisions, saying they could “undermine VA’s workforce and could ultimately hinder” services to veterans.

The administration “believes that the approach to accountability in the legislation — focused primarily on firing or demoting employees without appropriate or meaningful procedural protections — is misguided and burdensome. … This approach significantly alters and diminishes important rights and protections that are available to the vast majority of other employees across the government and which are essential to safeguarding employees’ rights and the merit system,” it said.

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SOURCE: Eric Yoder 
The Washington Post