WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Friday announced plans to publicly list firings and demotions for any department employee as part of their pledge to bring more accountability to the bureaucracy.
In a statement, VA Secretary David Shulkin said the move shows that his department is focused on both improving veterans' care and providing greater transparency into government operations.
"Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we're doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent," he said. "Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that."
All of the information will be posted on the website of the department's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, which was stood up this spring to monitor enforcement of VA employment rules and suggest additional changes to workplace disciplinary actions.
It comes just two weeks after President Trump signed into law sweeping new accountability rules for Veterans Affairs employees, including more dismissal authority for VA leaders and faster appeals times for pending punishments.
The measure drew broad bipartisan support, despite opposition from some union groups who said the moves eroded federal worker rights and ignored more serious underlying problems in the VA bureaucracy.
The initial list of disciplinary moves released by VA officials Friday dates back to Jan. 20, the start of Trump’s administration, and does not include any actions under the new firing authorities.
It does include nearly 750 punishments meted out over the last five months, including 526 dismissals. It does not include names of employees, for privacy reasons.
Similar lists of employee discipline have been made available to lawmakers and media in recent years, but not in a public website like the new initiative.
In addition to the new lists, Shulkin announced new rules requiring senior-level approval of any employee settlement more than $5,000. The department has come under criticism in recent years for large cash payouts to employees who challenged their firing or demotion.
"Taxpayers need to know that we will engage in good faith settlement negotiations where required by third parties, but will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged or when settlement is otherwise in veterans’ and taxpayers’ best interests, and not as a matter of ordinary business," Shulkin said.
"We’re changing to a culture of accountability at VA, and this is an important step in that direction."
VA officials are expected to announce new human resources policies in coming days to implement the new accountability legislation approved last month. Shulkin has said he does not expect the new authority to lead to "mass firings" at VA, but insists that disciplining problem employees is critical to department morale and public trust in the department.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.