House Veterans Affairs Chairman Files New VA Accountability Act

House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller
House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, has filed new legislation that he says will bring "real accountability" to all employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

If enacted, the bill would radically reduce the time between firing or demoting an employee and getting a resolution if the action is appealed to no more than 77 days from more than a year. It would also entirely pull VA senior executive service officials out of the Merit Systems Protection Board.

"The biggest obstacle standing in the way of VA reform is the department's pervasive lack of accountability among employees at all levels," Miller said in a statement on Wednesday. "Until this problem is fixed once and for all, long-term efforts to reform VA are doomed to fail."

Miller's bill comes on the heels of decisions by the Justice Department and the VA to disregard the expedited firing process that Miller and other lawmakers made sure was included in the Veterans Accountability Act of 2014.

Though many lawmakers believed the 2014 act would enable VA Secretary Bob McDonald to quickly clean out non-performing, poorly performing or corrupt VA managers, the law turned out to be legally flawed.

The Department of Justice in early June said it would not defend the expedited firing provision of the accountability act -- which in part rolled back from months to just weeks the fired employee's right to appeal. With DoJ bailing on its support, McDonald announced June 17 that the VA would not fire officials using the law.

Miller said at the time that McDonald's decision called into question whether the VA is even interested in disciplining employees, and was evidence that civil service reform is needed across the federal government.

Miller's newest accountability bill also includes a provision providing whistleblowers a system to solve problems at the lowest level possible while still offering them protection from reprisals and mandating strict accountability for those who act against them.

Additionally, it would give the VA secretary the authority to recoup bonuses and relocation expenses from "misbehaving employees," as well as reduce pensions of senior executives convicted of felonies that influenced their job performance.

Miller blames "union bosses, administration officials and their enablers" for the lack of accountability at the VA, saying they use "every trick in the book" to help department bureaucrats keep their jobs even though they cannot or will not do them.

He said his bill will get rid of loopholes that have allowed "deadwood employees" to stay in jobs for years.

"Union bosses and defenders of the broken status quo will oppose this bill, and that is exactly why it must become law," Miller said.

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

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