House Backs Bill Ensuring Reprimands Remain on VA Employees’ Records

"Managers should know the complete history of their staff or potential staff members," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio. "Managers should know the complete history of their staff or potential staff members," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House on Monday passed a bill that would require the Veterans Affairs Department to keep a copy of any admonishment or reprimand in employees’ personnel files as long as they work for the department.

The Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act, which lawmakers approved unanimously, would make those notices citing poor performance or misconduct a permanent part of an employee’s file. Under the current policy, an “admonishment” remains on an employee’s record for two years, while a “reprimand” stays in the file for three years, after which time they it is permanently removed. An admonishment is an informal warning issued to an employee either verbally or in writing; a reprimand is more serious, and is a written statement of formal censure for misconduct.

The legislation does not create any new penalties for employees or affect the process for appealing disciplinary actions.

“Part of the systemic problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs stem from the fact that current policy prevents the keeping of complete employee files and does not allow the at-fault employees to be tracked or held accountable,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., the bill’s sponsor. “It is critical to maintain a complete record of a poor performer in order to better understand an employee as long as they are with the department.”

But the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents VA employees, strongly opposed the bill in a May 18 letter to House lawmakers, saying it “would deprive every VA employee, including non-managerial employees, of the chance to clear his or her name after receiving an unjustified reprimand from a manager who is acting out of incompetence, bias, anti-veteran animus or whistleblower retaliation.” (emphasis in original.)

Costello defended the legislation on the House floor Monday, acknowledging “some concerns that this legislation could negatively impact flexibility in resolving routine personnel disputes, but there is nothing in this bill that imposes new employee penalties or would affect the existing process for a VA employee to appeal a disciplinary action.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said Monday in support of the bill that “no one is saying that employees can’t improve their performance after being reprimanded or admonished, but managers should know the complete history of their staff or potential staff members.”

The letter from AFGE, signed by Beth Moten, the union’s legislative and political director, said H.R. 1038 would eliminate Clear Record Settlement Agreements. “CRAs give managers the flexibility to resolve routine personnel disputes efficiently and quickly without protracted litigation or destruction of the VA careers of front-line employees,” Moten wrote.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., praised the Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act, “which would put an end to the department’s tired and ineffective practice of issuing temporary written warnings to employees in the face of serious instances of mismanagement and malfeasance,” he said in statement.

The House on Monday passed four other vet-related bills, including legislation that would give preference to government contractors who employ veterans full-time, and another that would allow the surviving spouse of a service-disabled vet to retain the vet’s small business status through VA’s Vets First program for up to three years after the veteran’s death.

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