Testing the VA’s new rapid-fire-you weapon

Look for a major ruling this week that could have a major impact on the pay, pensions. bonuses and job security of Uncle Sam’s 6,000 top career executives.

An administrative law judge from the Merit Systems Protection Board is expected to rule in the case of Sharon Helman, formerly a top official at the Veterans Affairs Center in Phoenix

She was fired last month after a 7-month suspension under a brand-new law that provides for fast-track disciplinary action limited only to the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s the government’s fourth largest agency. Helman and others were accused by members of Congress, vets groups and whistleblowers of mismanagement and delayed care for vets.

Under the new law, VA employees can be suspended and fired quicker than their counterparts in all other agencies. Feds in other agencies have a more extended and complex appeal system. Unlike an executive in other agencies, anyone fired under the new VA system cannot appeal a decision to the full MSPB.


The question many feds, especially at the SES level, are asking is who’s next? Congress could easily extend the fast-firing rules to Defense, the IRS or any agency where “problems”, from the life-threatening to the politically-contrived, pop up. Member of the SES are paid from $120,000 to $188,500 with most at the $165,000 level.

Helman was suspended for seven months, then fired last month for allegedly mismanaging veterans health care at the giant Phoenix, Arizona, facility. It serves an estimated 80,000 vets and has been at the center of allegations that some officials and employees there, and also in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Washington State, kept two sets of records. One, according to testimony before Congress, showed little or no wait time for ailing veterans. The other set of records, critics claimed, showed extended wait times. According to some whistleblowers and veterans groups, some vets died while awaiting treatment due them.

Two or three other top regional VA officials have been fired and two others who were under fire retired.

The overriding issue, of course, is the best health care for veterans. Nobody — at least publicly — opposes that.

But within the federal service, many people fear that VA’s fast- firing rules will be extended governmentwide, perhaps on a department by department basis. The fear is that they could be used by politically-minded bosses to get career employees to cut corners, play favorites or otherwise bend the rules.

Others say it could cut into or cripple the government’s various awards and bonus programs. They are designed to reward people for doing outstanding jobs, saving money, etc. And there are hundreds of examples that it works. But …

Some people blame the awards system for for tempting top managers to cook the books so that things appear to be going well, making them and their bosses eligible for cash payouts.

However, the ruling goes this week , this may not be the final chapter. And for many feds, especially in the Carter-era SES, the obvious question is who’s next?


By Michael O’Connell

The theme song for the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is “The Liberty Bell” by American composer John Philip Sousa.

Source: Oxford Reference


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