VA Hiring Freeze Could Cut Unnecessary Layers of Management

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson announced the hiring freeze recently. Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson announced the hiring freeze recently. Matt York/AP

The targeted hiring freeze that acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson announced recently along with 15 other management reforms could reduce bloat and free up resources to combat the patient-wait-time scandal that has engulfed the department, observers say.

The hiring freeze would apply to the Veterans Health Administration Central Office and the 21 Veterans Integrated Service Network regional offices, with exceptions for critical positions to be approved by the secretary on a case-by-case basis. The purpose, Gibson said, is to “begin to remove bureaucratic obstacles and establish responsive, forward-leaning leadership.”

To that Gibson added a plan to bring on “additional clinical and patient support staff,” promising to “deploy teams of dedicated human resource employees to accelerate the hiring of additional, needed staff.”

Understanding why the two moves that appear to pull in opposite directions are consistent requires focusing on the type of employee who is headquarters-bound in contrast with those on the front line, according to observers Government Executive consulted.

“Part of the VA’s access to care crisis can be directly attributed to medical staff vacancies in potentially every hospital and outpatient clinic,” said Joe Davis, public affairs director at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Washington Office. “Clerks are important, but right now the VA needs more folks manning the ramparts than they do in the back office.”

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, said VA may be addressing a common problem. “It is possible that there are too many HQ execs and not enough capacity in the field, a phenomenon in a lot of governmental and private sector entities,” he said. Gibson should be given the benefit of the doubt on these kinds of choices, Stier said, since he has the best information and is running the agency.

Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who has long advocated the “delayering” of agency central management, said Gibson didn’t go far enough. “It’s a half step, maybe even less because the word freeze itself suggests that a thaw will follow,” Light said.

What the acting secretary “should do is eliminate the positions, ask Congress to get rid of them,” Light added. “My experience over the years has been 100 percent accurate in predicting that frozen positions will always thaw and be filled in the future. Gibson does not need all those layers, nor the leaders per layer, who are self-aggrandizing in many cases and get in the way.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.