WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Government Employees today decried the Department of Veterans Affairs’ arbitrary denial of the union’s request for data used to set pay ranges for physicians and dentists employed by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
The VA’s effort to set new pay ranges for physicians and dentists is the result of a bill passed by Congress in 2004 to help recruit and retain competent health care providers. AFGE submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the VA for the survey data used to set pay ranges for VHA physicians and dentists in different parts of the country.
AFGE waited four months for a reply from the VA. The VA denied the union’s request basing its decision on a FOIA exemption that “protects from disclosure all privileged and confidential commercial or financial information obtained from a person.” However, AFGE never asked for an individual’s information in its FOIA request.
“We never asked to know how much a particular physician or dentist is being paid,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “We simply asked what data were being used to determine pay for a group of physicians in a particular area or locality. It makes no sense to deny access to records when the sources of the pay surveys and the compiled data are already matters of public record.”
AFGE maintains that the VA’s refusal to provide the information is particularly outrageous given that AFGE was unexpectedly left out of the initial process for selecting the pay surveys and setting national pay ranges. These arbitrary actions took place during a critical period when local medical centers were convening compensation panels to set local pay levels.
“The VA is scheduled to fully implement the new pay ranges in the upcoming months,” said Gage. “As representatives of these employees, our primary goal is to ensure that the agency carries out its agenda within the constraints of the law and that physicians, dentists and other employees are paid at fair, market rates.”
The VA’s exclusion of AFGE during the implementation of this important legislation comes as a surprise and disappointment given the collaborative spirit that existed during the drafting of the legislation. “Even though AFGE played a huge part in getting the physicians pay bill passed, the VA has intentionally excluded the union and the VA employees it represents from the process to determine pay rates,” said Gage. “The VA is acting against the will of Congress, and we are perfectly within our rights to ask for and receive the information we requested. Veterans and taxpayers will be the losers if the VA is unable to attract high-quality medical professionals to the VA.”
AFGE has not ruled out the possibility of taking legal action to obtain the pay rate information.