The House on Tuesday approved a measure to require the Veterans Affairs Department to permanently note reprimands in employees’ personnel files, making the accountability measure the first bill the chamber approved in the 115th Congress.
The Ensuring VA Accountability Act would mandate that VA keep copies of reprimands and admonishments in the employee's permanent record for as long as they are working for the department. Currently, “admonishments” remain in employees’ records for two years and “reprimands” for three.
“The artificial limitations make it difficult for VA managers to properly review employee performance and obtain an accurate picture of their work history,” the Republican Policy Committee said.
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The prioritization as the first bill in the new session of Congress -- following only a resolution to set the House rules for the 115th Congress -- could signal VA and federal employee accountability will be a key area of focus over the next two years. Congressional Republicans have fought since 2014 to make it easier to fire VA employees and restrict their bonuses, though many of their efforts were blocked by their Democratic colleagues or President Obama. President-elect Donald Trump spoke throughout his campaign of the need for VA reform and as part of his official platform promised to bring more accountability to VA senior executives.
“I think that’s a good sign,” Dan Caldwell, vice president of policy for Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative group that backs increased accountability measures, said of Tuesday’s vote. He added Congress would need to pursue “much deeper” reforms to “really make a difference.”
Previous efforts to ease the discipline of VA’s Senior Executive Service members, implemented after the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, stalled when the Obama administration declined to defend the provision in federal court.
Later in the 115th Congress’ first week, the House will consider a series of bills aimed at providing more oversight of federal agencies. The Taxpayers’ Right to Know Act would require the Office of Management and Budget to post online information related to “the cost and performance” of federal programs that exceed $1 million. The House approved the bill in 2015, but it stalled in the Senate. It will also vote on a measure that would require agencies to give all federal records requested by the Government Accountability Office to the auditing agency, and authorize GAO to bring civil actions against those who fail to comply. The House will also consider Office of Special Counsel reauthorization and a bill to bring more transparency to federal advisory committees.
Later in the week, the House will vote on the 2017 Midnight Rules Relief Act, which would allow Congress to nix en bloc regulations finalized by agencies within 60 legislative days of the end of a presidential term. It will also consider the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which Republicans have pushed for years and would require congressional approval of rules and regulations that would produce an impact on the economy of more than $100 million.