New VA Chief Wants to Fire More Employees . . . Respectfully

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald wants to flatten VA's hierarchy. Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald wants to flatten VA's hierarchy. Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Malfeasant Veterans Affairs Department employees will be held accountable, newly sworn-in Secretary Bob McDonald said on Thursday, but the process will take time and the employees will be treated with respect.

When touring a VA facility in Memphis, McDonald told reporters he could not disclose any information on who or how many senior executives would be fired in relation to the wait time and data manipulation scandal that has engulfed the agency in recent months, and said due process must be maintained.

"You've got to treat that person with respect," McDonald said, according to the Associated Press. "They have to be allowed a certain due process that's allowed them by law or by statute or by policy. And, so, we can't talk to you about names, we can't talk to you about individuals, even though that's what you would like. We can't do that because that would be disrespectful.”

Still, McDonald said the cases must move as expeditiously as possible.

“We’ve got to deal with it as quickly as we can,” he said. “We’ve got to deal with it deliberately. You’ve got to deal with it appropriately and I can tell you we’re going to hold people accountable.”

A law signed by President Obama last week would allow the VA to fire or demote Senior Executive Service employees immediately. They would then have seven days to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board, which would in turn have 21 days to issue a ruling.

MSPB has said the law raises major due process and logistical concerns -- currently the quasi-judicial agency with just 200 employees has 120 days to adjudicate a case.

The VA scandal first came to light after employees blew the whistle on wrongdoing, and the agency has since come under fire for illegally retaliating against workers who shed light on misconduct. VA has promised to eradicate whistleblower retaliation, and McDonald said Thursday a more congenial tone may be the key to getting employees to come forward.  

“Many people want to call me secretary. I’m asking that they call me Bob because we’ve got to flatten the hierarchy,” McDonald said. “We’ve got to get rid of the hierarchy which may get in the way of people communicating what’s really going on.” 

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