Slew of bills helping the Veterans Affairs Department shows how much Congress can get done within a limited scope.
Restoring veterans’ trust and mending gaps between the department’s headquarters and its employees in the field are top priorities for Tom Bowman, the president’s nominee to be the deputy VA secretary.
The Veterans Affairs Department spends too much money on bricks and mortar and not enough on its own doctors and nurses, former VA Secretary Anthony Principi told Congress. Some lawmakers are once again calling for a full review of VA capital assets, which span encompass more than 6,000 owned buildings and 1,500 leased facilities and span more than 170 million square feet.
Senators have two very different proposals to redesign the Veterans Choice Program. Both pieces of legislation represent very different ideologies and sides of a debate that Congress, the Veterans Affairs Department, veterans service organizations and federal employee groups have been having for the past three years.
According to the Veterans Affairs Department’s new reports detailing all major disciplinary actions for its workers, VA is on track to fire fewer people in 2017 than it has during the past six fiscal years. Federal employment experts say the new adverse action reports lack some significant details about VA’s efforts to improve accountability and transparency.
VA fired, demoted or gave long suspensions to 749 people since Jan. 20. But it doesn’t say what they did.
A small group of senators says the Veterans Health Administration should have its own chief information officer, who would report to the department’s undersecretary for health and would oversee all management and procurement decisions related to the health administration’s IT systems. It’s one of a few specific recommendations from the VA Commission on Care that are beginning to appear in new pieces of legislation.
The Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general said in its annual Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) report that the agency’s cybersecurity efforts remain troublesome and puts data and systems at risk.
The Veterans Affairs Department will immediately get rid of 71 vacant or nearly empty facilities. VA will eliminate another 71 buildings within the next six months. It’s part of the department’s long term effort to trim its inventory of outdated, underutilized or vacant buildings within the next two years.
It’s been a busy couple of months for the Veterans Affairs Department. But VA Secretary David Shulkin said he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s pushing the VA workforce to embrace risk and begin making bold, fundamental changes to the way it does business. He said he sees the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act as one bold change that will improve the department’s employee morale and recruitment efforts.
The Veterans Affairs Department once again needs congressional authority to transfer funds from one account to another to keep the Veterans Choice Program running for the rest of fiscal 2017. VA Secretary David Shulkin says the issue emphasizes the need to redesign the program, yet Congress has its concerns about the viability of Choice in the near and long term future.
The House will pass the VA Accountability First and Whistleblower Protection Act, clearing the way for the President to sign the bill later this week. Some lawmakers and veterans service organizations see the bill’s passage as a major win after years of debate over new accountability legislation. But federal employee groups say the bill would do more harm than good.
The VA is shortening the time it takes for student veterans to get the payments they need to attend school through the G.I. bill. Lawmakers still think the time is too long, however.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin offered the first glimpse of his plan to redesign the current Veterans Choice Program. He’s calling it the Veterans’ Coordinated Access Rewarding Experience (CARE) Program, and under the new initiative, veterans would no longer access community providers based on a set of arbitrary, administrative rules.