The House unanimously passed a bill Monday that would ban bonuses for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department for the next five years.
The provision was included in a larger bill to require public universities to charge veterans attending their schools in-state tuition rates. The House previously approved a measure that would reduce performance awards at the agency for all employees by 14 percent, or $275 million. The Senate has not voted on that bill yet.
The new legislation would eliminate performance awards for members of the Senior Executive Service through 2018, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save $18 million. The provision, originally introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., as part of another bill, comes after hearings on VA’s bonus program and a Government Accountability Office report that found the agency’s suspended and unlicensed doctors received significant bonuses.
Miller said the bill’s passage marked an important step forward to hold VA more accountable, as the department has failed to conduct the review of its performance appraisal system that the committee recommended. The chairman long has argued that no one at the department deserves bonuses while the backlog of veterans benefits claims remains high. Miller even created a website to track VA’s “lack of accountability” in giving out awards.
“Until we have complete confidence that VA is holding executives accountable -- rather than rewarding them -- for mistakes, no one should get a performance bonus,” Miller said. “Period.”
The Senior Executives Association warned Miller not to eliminate the performance awards, as it would drive VA employees out of federal service. SEA said in a letter to the committee that the bonuses are part of the pay structure for SES employees, and are awarded only after a “rigorous review of executives’ achievements against both individual and organizational performance goals.”
SEA’s President Carol Bonosaro wrote in the letter that banning bonuses would be “counter-productive and run the risk of detracting from mission accomplishment and driving high-performing VA executives to retire or seek more rewarding positions in other parts of the government or the private sector.”
The performance awards were created “to encourage excellence in performance by career appointees,” according to federal statute, and are worth between 5 percent and 20 percent of an employee’s basic rate of pay.