WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today denounced the passage of H.R. 1994, legislation that will destroy the due process rights of more than 350,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Bill supporters in the House missed an important opportunity to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive, commonsense approach to accountability at the VA,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “When it comes to the care of our nation’s veterans we depend on lawmakers to advance legislation that will continue to improve the agency charged with veterans’ care. We need more leaders like Representative Mark Takano whose substitute amendment truly addresses accountability at the agency. We will fight H.R. 1994 in the Senate as hard as we fought it in the House, because it is the antithesis of accountability reform at the VA.”
This legislation would reduce accountability by stripping due process rights away from even non-management employees, including every VA whistleblower and nearly 115,000 veterans in the VA workforce. The provisions in this legislation would lead to more retaliation against whistleblowers – not less – and far fewer employees would be willing to take the risk of coming forward to expose threats to patient care.
AFGE is strongly encouraged by a recent statement from the White House indicating that senior advisors to the President would recommend he veto the bill should it arrive on his desk. The Administration noted that “the legislation raises serious concerns under the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It could also raise concerns under the Due Process Clause depending on its application. The bill could have a significant impact on VA’s ability to retain and recruit qualified professionals and may result in a loss of qualified and capable staff to other government agencies or the private sector.”
“Legislation like H.R. 1994 fails to recognize the greatest resource in VA accountability reform: front-line VA employees,” said AFGE National VA Council President Alma Lee. “Each and every day dedicated public servants are working directly with veterans to serve their needs. They take pride in their work, assessing processes that need improving at the point of care, and blowing the whistle when mismanagement occurs. Surely lawmakers who truly seek to change the culture of fear, retaliation and mismanagement at the agency can recognize the invaluable resource they have before them.”
Representative Takano and Senator Richard Blumenthal have introduced legislation, H.R. 2999 and S. 1856 respectively, that will build on the foundation of the Veterans’ Access to Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. The troublesome culture of fear, retaliation, and mismanagement can be thoroughly addressed through the legislative proposals of Takano and Blumenthal. Their approach to VA reform preserves essential due process rights and allows VA employees to continue to speak up against mismanagement. Each bill carves out an exception to current civil service protections when an employee presents a clear and direct threat to public health. They also reduce mismanagement by curtailing a widespread revolving door problem in the VA and improving management training and performance measures.