Boehner: Make It Easier to Fire VA Execs

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, joined a chorus of Republican lawmakers Thursday in supporting legislation that would make it easier to fire senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department, saying the agency is “failing veterans.”

Boehner promised a vote “soon” on the 2014 VA Management Accountability Act, which would allow the VA secretary to terminate or demote any employees in the Senior Executive Service. The Republican leader argued the current agency structure encourages bonuses and promotions without any attachment to performance.

“I thought I had seen the worst in government, but this goes beyond the pale,” Boehner said. “If you’re presiding over a bureaucracy that’s failing veterans, you shouldn’t be receiving bonuses. You should be gone.”

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who authored the bill and chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also pushed the bill during the press conference Thursday.

“We cannot continue to promote people who have not done their jobs and give them bonuses even when there have been preventable deaths at their facilities,” Miller said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who introduced the bill in the Senate, was careful to praise the VA workforce, but said an agency as important as VA should be held to the same accountability standards as private sector companies and congressional offices.

“The enormous and vast majority of the 300,000 who work at this agency work hard and do a great job,” Rubio said. “But like any organization, there’s going to be breakdowns. And when there are, people need to be held accountable, especially at the senior management level.”

Federal employee advocates have voiced stark opposition to the bill, saying it is counterproductive to improving the VA.

“Not only is this bill a solution in search of a problem, it is unfair and does not further the goal that we all share to ensure the highest quality care for our nation’s veterans,” said Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, when the bill was released. She added the measure would hurt many of the people it was intended to protect, as one-third of VA employees are themselves veterans, and said the bill was “largely driven by optics,” rather than good policy.

In a January letter to Miller, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the department’s appraisal program is tied closely to performance and the agency already possesses “sufficient authority to take swift action” to hold employees accountable. 

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