This story has been updated.
The House unanimously passed a bill Monday to limit the amount the Veterans Affairs Department can spend on bonuses each year, mandating a 14 percent cut to the agency’s performance awards.
The bill would set an annual cap on bonuses of $345 million for the next five years, or through 2018. It would also require VA to include a standardized appeal form along with rejection notices issued to veterans applying for benefits.
VA bonuses have come under fire in recent months, with the department repeatedly falling short of its claims backlog reduction goals and the Government Accountability Office finding inadequate oversight led to suspended and unlicensed doctors receiving significant bonuses. House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who launched a website in September to track VA’s “lack of accountability” in awarding bonuses, previously introduced a bill to eliminate entirely performance awards for VA’s senior executives.
That bill, however -- which federal employee advocates complained would drive workers out of the civil service -- would only save $18 million over five years. The new measure would apply to the entire VA workforce and thereby cut bonuses by about $275 million over five years. Recent figures show VA spent about $400 million annually on the awards.
While previous efforts to curb VA’s spending on bonuses have generally been spearheaded by Republicans, this House-backed bill was introduced by a Democrat, Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada. In a statement on the bill’s passage, Titus praised the provision that would streamline the appeals process but did not mention the bonus reduction specifically, and her office declined to comment further.
Miller, however, said the bill would ensure bonuses go only to VA’s “most outstanding” employees.
“These bonus reductions will help make sure VA leaders put a greater emphasis on connecting performance pay with actual performance,” the committee chairman said in a statement to Government Executive. “Democrats and Republicans of the committee are united in this concern, and judging by the overwhelming bipartisan support [the bill] received during yesterday’s House passage, most of the House feels similarly.”
The House passed several additional veterans bills Monday aimed at expediting claims processing, including a measure that would establish a task force charged with “examining the root causes” of the backlog.
“Government bureaucrats under both Republican and Democratic administrations created the backlog,” Miller said, “so it’s only natural to solicit outside help from the private sector and the veterans service organization community in working toward a solution.”