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Proposal would make it easier to fire VA officials

Apr. 2, 2014 - 03:33PM   |  
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A push from Speaker of the House John Boehner and a continued stream of scandals involving Veterans Affairs administrators has pushed legislation to ease the firing of department officials onto the fast track. (Jim Watson / AFP)
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A push from the Speaker of the House and a continued stream of scandals involving Veterans Affairs administrators has pushed legislation to ease the firing of department officials onto the fast track.

The legislation, dubbed the VA Management Accountability Act, would give the VA secretary broader authority to dismiss senior executives. It has gained support from conservatives in Congress and a range of veterans advocacy groups, who argue that top department leadership needs to do more to weed out bad actors.

In the last week, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has highlighted the legislation on the House floor and on social media.

“The principle here is simple: when you’re not getting the job done, you gotta go,” he said. “At the VA, it’s been quite the opposite. For all the incompetence we’ve seen and all the lives that have been lost, the evidence shows there’s been no accountability, only half-measures and slaps on the wrist.”

Boehner has also scheduled a press conference on the legislation Thursday morning, joining with veterans groups supporting the idea.

Department officials say the new measure will scare away top talent, and undermine rules designed to protect federal employees. And they’ve argued against the idea that the department lacks accountability, noting that 3,000 employees were fired last year alone and six senior executives removed in the last two years.

But lawmakers have repeatedly questioned whether that really shows that officials are demanding the best from senior leaders.

This week, NBC4 Washington reported that a high-level VA financial manager was hired for a $100,000-plus position in Georgia just a few months after resigning from a similar Mississippi post because of a work-related drunk-driving accident that killed another VA worker.

A VA inspector general report in late March also blasted VA managers for protecting and promoting a Tennessee claims worker who racked up $31,000 in unauthorized travel bills and ran sex chats on a government laptop during work hours.

House Veterans Affairs Committee staffers have also chronicled a host of senior employees who received bonuses despite reports of mismanagement and, in several cases, patient deaths.

For now, the accountability bill, sponsored by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., is pending in that committee. Supporters hope the legislation will move to the full House floor in coming weeks.

While support in the House seems strong, it’s less clear in the Senate. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has offered mirror legislation, but so far Democratic leaders in that chamber have not offered public support.

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