Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014, a bill that would give Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki and future VA secretaries complete authority to fire or demote VA Senior Executive Service (SES) or equivalent employees based on performance. The bill was introduced in the House today by House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL).
The bill is a 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.
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. This bill gets rid of these hurdles in order 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.
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.
“Widespread lack of accountability and a mounting disability benefits backlog has left many of our veterans without proper care, even resulting in the tragic and preventable deaths of at least 31 veterans. The least we can do in return for our veterans’ courageous service and sacrifice is ensure that they receive the quality care and treatment they deserve. This bill equips VA leaders with the tools needed to address and correct the problems at hand. Giving the VA secretary complete authority to manage executives based on their performance discourages career employees from evading appropriate punishments and helps restore the public’s faith in the organization,” said Rubio.
“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,” said Chairman Miller.