The Department of Veteran’s Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act is a bipartisan bill. This bill is in response to problems encountered by the VA over the last few years. It’s intended to reform the Department of Veteran’s Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss any employee who isn’t performing. It’s also intended to ensure due process protection for whistleblowers. If this becomes a law, many VA employees will be impacted.
Purpose of the Bill
According to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL):
“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs. […] We must make real changes that put the well-being of our service members before the best interests of bureaucrats.”
Among others, the secretary of the VA has lent his support for the bill.
Quicker Procedures for Removal, Suspension, or Demotion
This will affect both senior executives and employees. It would enact a fast procedure for the removal or demotion of an employee. The bill states, “The aggregate period for notice, response, and final decision in a removal, demotion, or suspension under this section may not exceed 15 business days.” A removal, demotion, or suspension of more than 14 days can be appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. It would have to be made within 10 days and the Administrative Judge must issue a decision within 180 days after the date of the appeal. An employee is also allowed to appeal the decision to the full board. Any employee who wins their appeal would receive back pay.
These new procedures would also supersede any collective bargaining agreement already in place.
If an employee is seeking corrective action from the Office of Special Counsel, the VA secretary would not be allowed to remove, demote, or suspend that employee without Special Counsel approval.
Annuity and Employee Conviction of Certain Crimes
The bill proposes reducing annuity of an employee convicted of a felony that influenced the performance of an employee while working for the VA. When an annuity is reduced, there will be a procedure for appealing to the Director of OPM. This annuity reduction can also be applied to an employee who has already retired.
Recouping Bonus Payments
This bill also allows the agency to recoup bonus payments to an employee if the secretary determines that person engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to the payment.
Recouping Relocation Expenses
This bill also allows the VA secretary to issue an order directing an employee of the department to repay the amount, or partial, paid for relocation expenses if the expenses were paid following an act of fraud or malfeasance that influenced the authorization of the expenses.
Senators have reached a long-awaited agreement on legislation that would give the VA new firing/disciplinary procedures for all VA employees. They say the solution comes from the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.