There’s been some progress in employee and union involvement in day-to-day operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but a lot more needs to change if the agency is to provide the best care to veterans.
VA Secretary Robert McDonald testified before Congress Jan. 21 about the department’s MyVA Transformation initiative that promises to improve veterans’ health care, improve the employee experience, improve information technology infrastructure, create a culture of continuous improvement, and expand partnerships.
The initiative has a great deal of potential to make needed improvements to the VA. As one of the goals is to improve the employee experience, one would think the unions would have the most active roles in this initiative. But that’s not the case.
For example, we recently learned about a management-only workgroup on physician engagement. This workgroup never contacted AFGE to get the input of frontline doctors even though AFGE represents doctors at most medical centers around the country.
AFGE is the largest union representing VA employees in every occupation, but we were given only one slot on MyVA workgroups, the same number as other unions that represent only a small percentage of the workforce in far fewer occupations.
Meanwhile, a large number of outside consultants and 20 or more VA managers are allowed to participate in these workgroups.
“Our role in the current transformation process is more superficial and uneven for a number of reasons. As a result of less meaningful employee engagement, the current Transformation effort’s likelihood of success is more limited,” AFGE said in a statement submitted to the hearing.
A recent survey of our local presidents confirms that true employee engagement is still lacking. The majority of these local leaders are not involved in MyVA or other purported employee initiatives at any level.
As one AFGE local president noted, even when management does hold a town hall meeting to solicit employee input, employees can rarely attend because the facilities are so short-staffed.