At a congressional hearing on pending legislation July 12, Department of Veterans Affairs officials told members of Congress it has enough tools to address poor performance and doesn’t need a bill pending in Congress that would speed up firings of employees without proper due process.
The bill in question is H.R. 4278, the Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act. This new version isworse than its 2017 predecessor that became so problematic that key aspects have been invalidated by courts.
The VA earlier this year stopped utilizing powers granted under the 2017 VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act after facing a barrage of legal challenges, many from AFGE, and being ordered by judges to reinstate illegally disciplined employees. Lawmakers then introduced H.R. 4278 to reverse these decisions and expand the powers of the original Accountability Act.
At the hearing, members of Congress who support the original law and its reincarnation were not happy that the VA was no longer using the firing authority and questioned agency officials about it.
But the VA pushed back, saying they already have enough tools for the matter.
“We are confident that the authorities currently available to the VA are sufficient to hold employees accountable for misconduct and poor performance,” said Rondy Waye, executive director of Human Capital Programs. “We do not believe any legislation is necessary right now to ensure accountability.”
Waye said from 2016 to present, the VA has taken 39,000 actions against VA employees. There was an initial uptick of actions after the Accountability Act was passed as it was a focus then, but overtime the number of actions dropped as the VA was doing a better job hiring the right employees to do the work.
“So we only take action when it’s necessary to address misconduct and poor performance,” he added.
Waye further explained that there are cases that take longer to process, but it’s not because of lack of authority to take action.
“Most of the time that there appears to be a delay in taking action, it’s on the front end,” he said. “Typically when there’s misconduct, we have toconduct an investigation. The more significant the charges are, the more egregious the case the longer the investigation takes. It’s necessary to do a thorough investigation in order to support any action that we’ll take in the future, so that delay on the front end would be there whether we’re using [Section] 714, 713 [of Title 38], or Title 5.”
AFGE submitted our statement for the record at the hearing as well. AFGE strongly opposes H.R. 4278 as it would basically override collective bargaining agreements and due process put in place in the contracts to prevent unjust disciplinary action. The punitive bill would allow the VA to use little evidence to discipline employeesand continue to prevent the Merit Systems Protection Board or a third-party arbitrator from reducing unreasonable penalties. The bill would also allow the VA to retroactively apply the bill dating back to the enactment of the 2017 law.
The union supports efforts to amend the firing law to restore fairness to VA employees, including the bi-partisan “Protecting VA Employees Act” – or H.R. 6682 introduced last Congress.