MSPB chair: VA bill endangers feds’ civil rights

MSPB Chair Susan Tsui Grundmann talks about the VA Accountability Act at the EEOC EXCEL Conference

The head of the Merit Systems Protection Board, the agency that hears the final pleas of federal employees about to lose their jobs, called on feds to denounce legislation that she said threatened their civil rights.

In a speech at an event sponsored by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, MSPB Chair Susan Tsui Grundmann took aim at a recent law and the legislation it’s spawned. The year-old Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 curtails the due process rights of Senior Executive Service members in the Veterans Affairs Department. Just recently, the House passed legislation to extend the measure to the rest of the VA’s workforce.

“Civil rights have expired for SESers and face extinction for hundreds of thousands of others at the agency,” Grundmann said.

Congress passed the law amid outrage over misconduct in VA clinics nationwide. It allows VA to fire SES members without giving at least 30 days of advanced warning. The law also requires the MSPB to hear SES members’ appeals within a truncated time frame of 21 days. If the MSPB does not make a ruling within that timeframe, then the agency’s decision stands.

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At issue, Grundmann said, was the question of how much time federal employees should be given to try to save their jobs.

“Agencies cannot take federal employment away without the opportunity to respond,” she said.

“I call on you to join me in recognizing that the battle does not end today. The erosion of our achievements will not be tolerated. Today it’s the VA. Tomorrow it could be your agency,” she said.

Indeed, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has suggested that the same laws should apply to the entire federal workforce.

“Look, (if) it works at the VA, let’s spread it throughout the entire federal government so people are not ensconced,” he said Monday in a speech at the national convention of the Disabled American Veterans in Denver.

Yet, despite the rhetoric, little has come from the year-old law that spawned such proposals. The VA has fired just four senior executives under the law, Grundmann said. One settled. One withdrew. The other two went to hearings before the MSPB and lost. One of those executives, Sharon Helman, the former head of the Phoenix VA medical center, is appealing in federal court.

When the MSPB gets such a case, it puts others aside in order to meet the 21-day deadline, Grundmann said.

“There are thousands of pages of documents with lots of constitutional issues. These are not simple cases,” she said. “There is a lot at stake on both sides.”

Grundmann discusses the impact of the VA law on the MSPB's caseload.