House Panel Approves Bill Allowing VA to Fire Employees at Will

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on Thursday approved with a minor revision a bill that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire all employees, including non-management, at will.

H.R. 1994, introduced by House VA Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, would destroy the VA workforce, undermining the department’s ability to care for veterans. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Set the clock of workers’ right back more than 100 years by subjecting VA employees to the whims of the VA secretary, a political appointee.
  • Strip fundamental due process rights from every VA employee.
  • Tear down due process and workplace protections of the very frontline workers and whistleblowers who can hold management accountable for mismanaging veteran health care or harming veterans. This includes the right to 30 days’ advance notice before an adverse action may be imposed, the right to seven days for the employee to respond, the right to a representative, and the right to a written decision.
  • Impose longer probationary periods from one year to 18 months or longer, subjecting more veterans in the VA workforce to unfounded or discriminatory terminations.
  • Give the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) a new function of reviewing terminations, which would divert resources away from investigating claims of retaliation and discrimination. OSC is simply not well equipped or funded to pre-approve the removal of every whistleblower.
  • Cause significant numbers of doctors and other employees in shortage occupations to leave the VA or reject a future VA career.

The subcommittee also voted to reject an amendment offered by Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano of California to preserve due process, place an annual 14-day cap on administrative leave, and curtail a widespread revolving door problem by prohibiting VA senior executives from working for a contractor for a year after leaving the VA.

Instead, it adopted an amendment offered by Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio to allow OSC to close cases of prohibited personnel practices in an expedited manner. The minor revision, however, would not meaningfully improve the dangerous bill.

The full committee is expected to take up the bill late July.

Every federal employee needs to pay attention to this bill as what happens in the VA won’t stay in the VA. If Congress passes this bill, it will make its way to other federal employees in other departments. 

Contrary to some of the rhetoric behind calls to eliminate federal employee job rights:

  • More than 77,000 full-time federal employees were terminated as a result of performance or conduct issues between 2000 and 2014, according to a new MSPB report.
  • In 2014, 2,572 VA employees were removed for disciplinary or performance reasons, according to OPM.
  • Federal employees do not continue to receive their salaries after they are terminated.

Other Pending Bills That Would Allow VA to Fire Employees at Will

The Senate and House committees on veterans’ affairs this week held hearings on S. 1117, introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and S. 1082, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and is identical to H.R. 1994.

S. 1117 would strip fundamental due process rights from every non-management VA employee – not just the senior executives as falsely claimed in the bill’s description.


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