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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Obama: It Shouldn’t Be So Hard to Fire Incompetent, Unethical Execs

State Department

One of the central provisions in the Veterans Affairs reform bill President Obama signed into law Thursday allows for the streamlined firing of VA senior executives for alleged misconduct. Under the law, VA Secretary Bob McDonald can fire any Senior Executive Service member immediately, and his or her only recourse is an expedited appeals process.

If there was any doubt about where Obama stood on that issue, he cleared it up at a  signing ceremony at Fort Belvoir, Va. And in the process, he hinted that he favored a streamlined firing process not just at the VA, but in government generally.

“We’re giving the VA secretary more authority to hold people accountable,” Obama said.  “We’ve got to give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand. If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”

The Senior Executives Association strongly opposed the provision, saying that it's actually "very easy" to fire SESers under the current system, provided agencies issue a 30-day notice of an impending dismissal.

Obama also came down squarely on the side of whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing in government, and against those managers who retaliate against them for doing so.

“If you blow the whistle on an unethical practice, or bring a problem to the attention of higher-ups, you should be thanked,” he said. “You should be protected for doing the right thing. You shouldn’t be ignored, and you certainly shouldn’t be punished.”

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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