Congressional conferees probably will have to iron out differences between the two chambers related to the pay and bonuses of employees at the Veterans Affairs Department.
The current Senate version of the fiscal 2014 Military Construction-VA spending bill does not include a pay cut for senior officials if the department fails to make progress on the disability claims backlog, or prohibit performance awards for high-ranking employees. The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out its bill on June 20, and the full Senate could vote on final passage by the end of July.
The House version of that spending bill, however, imposes a 25 percent pay cut on VA senior officials unless the department substantially reduces its backlog by next summer. The provision, offered as an amendment by Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., limits the pay of those officials to 75 percent of their salary from July 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2014, “unless as of July 1, 2014 the percentage of disability compensation claims that are more than 125 days old is less than or equal to 40 percent.” The provision applies to the department’s senior political leadership, including the secretary, deputy secretary, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. The House passed the bill on June 4.
VA reported as of July 13 that it had 797,804 pending disability claims, 65.1 percent of which were older than 125 days. The backlog topped 900,000 in March so the department in April announced that it would fast-track disability claims from vets who have been waiting a year or longer for benefits. Last month VA reported that it eliminated 97 percent, or more than 65,000 claims, more than two years old from the backlog.
The House fiscal 2014 Military Construction-VA Appropriations Act also prohibits the VA secretary from handing out performance awards to senior executives in 2014; that language is not in the Senate version.
If the Senate approves the current version without those pay-related provisions, then lawmakers will have to resolve the difference in conference committee.
Both versions of the spending bill include language prohibiting the use of funds to pay for more than 50 employees to attend any single conference outside of the United States.
Clarification: The proposed pay cut would apply to VA’s senior political officials.