Plan to Overhaul VA Department Hits Opposition
Around the State
Veterans support organizations (VSO) and a group representing federal employees are divided on a bill introduced by two Florida Republicans in Congress to reform the federal Veterans Affairs Department.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, team up on Tuesday to introduce the VA Management Accountability Act of 2014.
The legislation would give VA secretaries the ability to fire or demote senior VA department officials based on performance. Rubio’s and Miller’s bill would give the VA secretary the ability to fire or demote senior executive service (SES) officials in the department. As of fiscal year 2012, there were 448 SES officials in the department.
When they introduced the bill, Rubio and Miller said the recent deaths of 31 veterans at VA facilities, which could have been prevented, and the lack of accountability VA officials faced in the aftermath prompted them to file their legislation.
But the Senior Executives Association (SEA), which represents federal employees, is pushing back against the measure.
“Not only is this bill a solution in search of a problem, it is unfair and does not further the goal that we all share to ensure the highest quality care for our nation’s veterans,” said SEA President Carol Bonosaro on Wednesday. “Further, nearly one-third of the career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) working at the VA are themselves veterans. They share a commitment to continued public service, and it is a shame that the very committee that is looking for ways to increase the presence of veterans in the federal workforce would now enable firing those at the highest career levels without any due process whatsoever.”
The SEA argued this would give SES workers less job protection than other federal employees and would subject them to political pressure.
Rubio’s and Miller’s legislation has won the backing of AMVETS (American Veterans), Concerned Veterans for America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The leaders of these and other VSOs went to bat for the bill on Thursday.
“The American Legion is deeply concerned with the lack of accountability within the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Dan Dellinger, the national commander of the American Legion, on Thursday. “This legislation would provide tools to the secretary of Veterans Affairs to better manage Senior Executive Service employees, and hold them accountable when they fail to perform their duties in a manner that better serves the veterans entrusted to their care.”
“Under the current, antiquated and morbidly dysfunctional civil service system, it’s nearly impossible to dismiss or do more than slap the wrists of incompetent, ineffective and wasteful Senior Executive employees,” insisted John Mitchell Jr., the national commander of AMVETS. “This situation is no doubt largely responsible for the ongoing backlog, as well as the problems of delayed benefits and inconsistent care experienced by many veterans. AMVETS believes that no matter what ideas and policies the VA secretary wants to implement, without the ability to remove deadweight executives, his hands are tied. Veterans are tired of platitudes and broken promises; the only way to break the cycle of ineptitude at VA and restore our veterans’ faith in the system is to eradicate problems at the root – the Senior Executive level.”
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.