Senate negotiators are expected this week to unveil new employment rules for senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but a pair of prominent lawmakers already want the law to go even further.
House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have teamed up in recent days to lobby for a pair of pending bills that would speed the process for firing any VA employee, calling them common sense reforms needed to fix the department's woes.
"Almost every day Americans are reminded that the federal civil service system is designed to coddle and protect corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats rather than facilitate a fair and efficient climate of accountability," the two said in a statement last week.
"Nowhere is this more visible than the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA's inability to hold problem employees accountable is at the root of all of the department's most serious problems."
The plan has proven controversial with congressional Democrats and union supporters, who argue the lawmakers are trying to undo ue fair employment laws.
The legislation has already passed the House but stalled in the Senate. The latest push to renew the proposal comes as Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., prepares to offer a sweeping veterans omnibus bill in coming days, including new employment rules governing senior VA executives.
Those changes are already controversial without the Miller and Rubio plan.
The Senior Executive Association has already called the proposed changes — which would allow VA leaders to offer more hiring and employment flexibility but dismiss managers without any outside appeal — a scapegoating move that will hurt experienced supervisors without fixing any problems.
But VA leaders have pleaded with lawmakers for the change in executive employment rules, even though Congress updated them less than two years ago. VA Secretary Bob McDonald has argued the more flexible standards will allow him to run the department more like a business and less like a government bureaucracy.
VA officials haven't offered the same support for the Miller-Rubio plan. But several prominent veterans groups have, and the plan was included in early drafts of the omnibus negotiations. It has not been in the more recent discussions.
"We are now concerned that you ... may be taking an approach that favors reaching a deal with the [Obama[ Administration or others at any cost, regardless of whether it actually addresses the VA's many problems or pays for new programs in a responsible way," Miller and Rubio wrote to Isakson this week.
"Not including such strong accountability language would be a disservice to both taxpayers and our nation's veterans."
The measure is one of more than 20 veterans-related bills which have passed the House but stalled in the upper chamber in recent months. Isakson has not indicated which will be included in his final omnibus proposal, beyond promising there will be accountability provisions in the bill.
Both Miller and Isakson have said they hope to have the veterans omnibus passed through Congress and to the president before Memorial Day. It remains to be seen wWhether the accountability fight derails that timeline remains to be seen.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.