VA Conferees Agree on One Thing: Fire More Bureaucrats

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Molly Riley/AP

While significant policy gaps remain among lawmakers working to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department, legislators from both parties and houses agreed on Tuesday that making it easier to fire employees is essential to any reform effort. 

Members of both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees pledged to move quickly on a compromise bill to revamp the department, repeatedly stating at the initial conference meeting they must seize the opportunity to effect change. Nearly every legislator spoke of the need to increase accountability within the bureaucracy and to punish those who were complicit in covering up extended wait times for veterans seeking care at VA facilities.

“Most people are surprised you even need a law to make this possible,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who introduced the VA Management Accountability Act in the Senate. “It’s common sense.”

Some members of the conference committee were careful to praise the efforts of most VA employees. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the department “should be proud” of its recent accomplishments.

“We shouldn’t castigate those who are innocent and we shouldn’t punish VA employees at large,” Brown said. At the same time Congress and VA must hold poor performers accountable, he added.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said final legislation must allow due process. The House-backed bill would allow the VA secretary to fire senior executives at will, while the Senate bill would provide employees with an expedited hearing with the Merit Systems Protection Board.

“The VA relies on qualified, committed professionals,” Hirono said. “We should be doing more to recruit these individuals. There are long-term benefits of attracting a high quality workforce to the VA.”

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, took issue with the House provision, noting that targeting Senior Executive Service employees would not impact the offenders mired in the current controversy. Those employees work in VA-specific positions created in Title 38 of U.S. Code, while SES workers fall under Title 5.

Lawmakers repeatedly took shots at VA leadership, while standing behind rank-and-file employees who blew the whistle on agency malfeasance.

Democrats and Republicans were polarized on certain key issues. Several conservative members spoke of the need to reform the culture at VA without “throwing money at the problem.” The Congressional Budget Office found the Senate bill would add $35 billion over the next three years to VA funding, while the House measure would add $44 billion over the next five. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., criticized CBO’s accounting.

Both bills would increase veterans’ access to private care for those who experience long wait times or live far from a VA facility. While the compromise bill’s price tag remains a large hurdle before a measure can be sent to President Obama, conference leaders were optimistic a deal will be reached.

“I am confident we will come together to pass significant legislation,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., co-chair of the committee. His partner, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said, “We have a lot of work to do and not much time to do it.”  

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:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


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