House GOP Gauges Trump Team’s Interest in Expediting Firing Across Government

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., is one of the lawmakers heading up the effort to expand reforms beyond VA. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., is one of the lawmakers heading up the effort to expand reforms beyond VA. Alex Brandon / AP

A group of House Republicans and several conservative advocacy groups are planning to send a letter to Trump administration officials to promote and solicit interest in easing the firing process for employees across the federal government.

Reps. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, and Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., are gathering signatures for their letter, which proposes expanding a law President Trump signed earlier this year to expedite discipline for employees at the Veterans Affairs Department. The letter will go out to all agency heads, asking if the reforms put in place at VA would be “beneficial towards increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and performance” of their organizations.

Specifically, the lawmakers will ask the agency leaders if they believe applying the authorities now in place at VA would be “beneficial to operational efficiency, morale and employee accountability,” and whether they have suggestions to “improve or expand these authorities.” So far, two-dozen conservative House members have co-signed Wenstrup and Loudermilk’s letter.  

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“For too long, the Department of Veterans Affairs has stood out as a glaring example of what can go wrong in a behemothic federal bureaucracy,” the lawmakers wrote in a “dear colleague” solicitation asking more of their colleagues to lend their names to the forthcoming letter, noting the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act has helped resolve those issues. “This letter will provide all heads of federal executive and independent agencies with an opportunity for government reform within their own agencies and departments and asks for their recommendations on similar legislation, which will in turn help Congress in future government efficiency and accountability reform priorities.”

The new law allows the VA secretary to fire, suspend or demote an employee with only 15 days' notice. Employees may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board in an expedited timeframe. MSPB would have 180 days to issue a decision, with the law designed to make it easier for VA to prove a negative personnel action was warranted. Employees would maintain the right to appeal an MSPB decision to federal court.

Unionized and Senior Executive Service employees have distinct, internal grievance processes that would have to be completed within 21 days. VA can revoke bonuses from employees found to have engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to the award and dock retirement benefits from workers found guilty of a felony that could have affected their work.

VA has used the new authority to remove the former head of the department’s medical center in Washington, D.C., in what will likely prove to be a high-profile test case for the law’s durability in court.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman who helped shepherd the VA accountability bill through the House, said after the bill passed last week it could serve as a blueprint for similar reforms across government, adding he expected his colleagues in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to look at the VA bill before possibly drafting broader legislation.

Loudermilk has established himself as a fierce opponent of current civil service laws. Earlier this year, he introduced the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement and Transformation (MERIT) Act, which would severely cut the amount of time federal workers have to appeal a negative personnel action. It would empower agency heads to fire any employee, provided they give a notice in writing. Employees would have seven days to appeal a removal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which would in turn have 30 days to make a final decision. If it did not rule in time, the agency’s decision would stand. Employees would not receive any pay or benefits in that interim period.

In a video posted to his Facebook page in February, Loudermilk accused federal employees of working to the point “where they are career bureaucrats who soak of the lifeblood of the American people.” In the draft of his letter he plans to send to agency heads, he praised Trump and his colleagues for making “bold reforms to existing operational processes.”

Americans for Prosperity, The R Street Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Taxpayers Union and FreedomWorks have all signed on in support of the lawmakers’ letter.

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