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 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.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin delivered his diagnosis of the department in a "State of the VA" briefing before reporters Wednesday morning. He outlined 13 areas where the department needs to improve and the legislative and administrative fixes it needs in order to see progress.
The Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which senators introduced last week, may have more momentum than previous bills. It now has 12 co-sponsors, including four Democrats and VA Secretary David Shulkin himself. Yet some federal employee groups and experts question whether the new bill has the teeth to truly tackle long entrenched cultural problems at the department.
Members of the Senate have reached a long awaited agreement on new accountability procedures for senior executives and employees within the Veterans Affairs Department. A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act Thursday morning. It would change current disciplinary appeals rights for both SES and rank-and-file employees.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld an appeal from Sharon Helman, the former director of the beleaguered Veterans Affairs medical center in Phoenix, Arizona, who was fired in 2014. The court said a key provision that lets VA more quickly fire and discipline senior executives is unconstitutional. The Merit Systems Protection Board will review the original decision an administrative judge made regarding Helman's removal.
The executive order establishes the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protections as a new entity within VA. The new office will identify barriers and duplicative processes and resources to quickly disciplining and firing VA employees for poor performance or misconduct.
The Office of Management and Budget is asking agencies to come up with new performance management plans by June 30. Human capital experts say the OMB guidance prompts agencies to consider several important questions but focuses too heavily on addressing poor performers, and not enough on recruiting and retaining top employees.
An extension and then redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, along with new employee accountability legislation, are top priorities for new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He said he's working with Congress on new legislation to support those initiatives.
Agency culture and a poor understanding of the disciplinary process are some of the biggest challenges supervisors, managers and senior executives said they face when trying to fire an employee for misconduct. The Merit Systems Protection Board surveyed 10,000 federal managers about their understanding and opinions of civil adverse action procedures.