Vote Notes: S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act
There’s a saying that “personnel is policy.” Your business or organization will ultimately be a reflection of the people you employ. Likewise, a manager’s ability to change their organization ultimately comes down to their ability to change personnel.
In that vein, the House voted today on S. 1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which will make it easier for VA officials to fire or otherwise discipline employees found guilty of serious misconduct. This bill, which passed 368 to 55, is similar to another bill called the VA Accountability First Act, which the House passed back on March 16th, but with some slight differences that required another vote in the House. If I could, I’d like to tell you why I voted for both bills….
In April of 2014, a retired VA employee came forward with accusations that senior managers at the VA hospital in Phoenix had instructed their staff to maintain a secret list of patients waiting for appointments...for the purpose of artificially lowering the reported average wait time. Sadly, the incident at the Phoenix VA proved to be only the tip of an iceberg.
In response to the unfolding scandal, Congress passed a comprehensive VA reform bill called the Veterans’ Access to Choice and Accountability Act in August 2014. That bill included a provision granting the Secretary of Veterans Affairs expedited authority to demote or fire senior-level employees for poor performance or misconduct. Today’s bill would expand that authority to cover all employees at the VA. It dramatically shrinks the timeline for appeals of disciplinary actions and prevents employees whose cases are under appeal from receiving pay, bonuses, or other benefits. Employees who are found guilty of a violation could be forced to repay bonuses or relocation expenses and could even see their retirement benefits reduced if convicted of a felony.
This bill differs from the March bill mainly in that it formally establishes a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which was created on a temporary basis as part of a bill passed last September. This office will handle all internal whistleblower tips, and it will also oversee the implementation of future reforms to the VA system. In addition, this bill maintains certain aspects of the existing process for appealing disciplinary decisions, pursuant to a May 9th decision in the United States Court of Appeals, while still subjecting the process to the new, shorter timeline.
Ultimately, this bill is about spending resources at the VA in a better way. It is a bipartisan, commonsense solution that will result in our government spending our tax dollars more efficiently as well as better care for our veterans. I therefore voted in favor of its passage.