VA Chief Touts Proposal to Make It Easier to Fire Executives

Robert McDonald
Robert McDonald

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Wednesday discussed a budget proposal designed to make it easier to discipline senior executive service employees for wrongdoing.

The proposal is included in the department's $182 billion budget for fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, among other policy and benefits changes intended in part to streamline agency operations.

The bid to place medical center directors and other SES-level employees under Title 38 -- the same job category as doctors and nurses -- was spurred by recent administrative judges' decisions vacating VA disciplinary actions against two senior executives.

"It seemed to us that [the Merit System Protection Board] judges didn't understand the intent of Congress" in giving the department greater power to discipline employees," McDonald told lawmakers.

A Title 38 employee demoted or fired for cause by the VA secretary would not be able to appeal to the board.

"[This] gives us more flexibility to pay them more competitively," McDonald said, "but it also gives us more flexibility in disciplinary matters without all the things that happened with the SES employees."

McDonald met on Tuesday night to discuss the planned bill with House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida, and ranking member Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Florida, as well as the chair and ranking member of the Senate veterans committee, Sens. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, and Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

A legislative provision based on the VA proposal will immediately be incorporated into current and ongoing negotiations between the two committees as part of package of veterans' legislation, a source familiar with the action told Military.com.

VA is also asking Congress for legislation to end a longstanding appeals process that allows veterans to continue pushing claims for years after they have been denied, McDonald said. In one case, he said, the Board of Appeals has been working on a case continuously appealed for 25 years.

Under the current law, a veteran may appeal any number of times if not satisfied with a VA ruling.

The proposed legislation would end -- with very limited exceptions -- the requirement that the department continue to accept new evidence in an appeal once an initial decision is issued. It would also transfer continued appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals and eliminate optional board hearings before veterans' law judges.

"Without the change," McDonald said, "pending appeals will soar to 2.2 million by 2027."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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