House passes Phil Roe’s bill to give VA more power to discipline employees

Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Hospital (WJHL)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Republican-led House has approved legislation to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote employees for poor performance or bad conduct. It’s part of a renewed GOP effort targeting VA accountability in the new Trump administration.

The bill passed 237-178. It would reduce the time workers have available under a union grievance process to appeal a disciplinary action.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Phil Roe of Tennessee, says the current grievance process could take up to 350 days to complete.

See also: Mountain Home VA investigated for manipulation of wait times

“I strongly believe we must do everything in our power to protect the rights guaranteed to all Americans, especially the men and women who have served, by the Constitution. The Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act does just that. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in passing this important legislation that ensures no veteran who utilizes a fiduciary will lose their second amendment rights without due process,” said Roe in a statement.

See also: Congressman wants to give Veterans Affairs Secretary more authority

The bill has the support of VA Secretary David Shulkin and the White House. But Democrats and unions cast the measure as an attack on workers’ rights, saying the House version is too aggressive and unfairly punishes rank and file employees.

The following is a release from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs:

Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 with bipartisan support:

“The VA Accountability First Act will provide Secretary Shulkin the tools he needs to swiftly discipline employees who fail in their mission to provide world-class health care and services to the men and women who served, and I’m proud this bill passed with bipartisan support. This legislation doesn’t just build back the trust of America’s veterans; it gives VA employees the trust to know that bad actors within the department will no longer have the power to taint their good name. I applaud my colleagues’ work today to put veterans first, and I look forward to continuing our progress in creating a culture of accountability at VA.”

Background: A recent study completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that, on average, it takes six months to a year to remove a permanent civil servant in the Federal Government, though it often takes longer. President Obama’s former VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson testified at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the Choice Program that it was too difficult to fire a substandard VA employee.  In fact, President Obama himself said, “if you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

In the past several years, VA’s arcane civil service rules have hampered the department’s ability to dismiss an employee that engaged in an armed robbery; discipline a VA nurse that participated in a veteran’s surgery while intoxicated; and hold employees accountable for the continued failures to manage several major construction projects, including the new hospital in Aurora, Colorado, that is now several years and a billion dollars over budget.

Read more at veterans.house.gov/accountability.

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