House to Vote on Firing VA Senior Execs

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki listens at left as Veterans Affairs acting Inspector General Richard Griffin testifies Thursday. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki listens at left as Veterans Affairs acting Inspector General Richard Griffin testifies Thursday. Cliff Owen/AP

The House will vote on legislation soon that seemingly would make it easier for the secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior executives.

The chamber will go back into session the week of May 19, when it is scheduled to consider the bill. The vote comes just after VA Secretary Eric Shinseki was grilled by senators Thursday about the department’s management and employee accountability, amid reports of veterans being put on alleged secret waiting lists for medical appointments and the recent deaths of vets who were waiting for care. On Friday, Shinseki accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at VA. Petzel announced in the fall that he intended to retire in 2014.

The 2014 VA Management Accountability Act (H.R. 4031) would give the head of the department “greater authority” to get rid of poor performers in the Senior Executive Service “in the same manner a member of Congress can remove a member of their staff,” according to background on the bill posted on the website of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The VA secretary could also demote the senior executive to another grade within the General Schedule pay scale.

The House is scheduled to vote on the measure Wednesday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has gained momentum in the past few weeks because of the burgeoning management crisis at VA. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., both issued press releases this week noting the upcoming vote and the support it has among some vets’ groups. The bill is widely supported by House Republicans, though it does have five Democratic co-sponsors. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.

The Senior Executives Association has strongly opposed the legislation, calling it unfair and counterproductive. “The bill does not contain due process and is another attempt at painting federal employees as guilty until proven innocent,” SEA President Carol Bonosaro said in a statement Friday. “Veterans deserve quality care and access to health services. Telling the secretary to fire senior executives may sound good, but it does not deal with the very real issues being raised nor does it provide solutions to those problems.”

Shinseki has said he already has sufficient authority to fire poor performers. During Thursday’s Senate hearing, Shinseki said VA has forced out -- either through transfers, terminations or involuntary retirements -- 3,000 workers in each of the last two years, some of whom were senior executives. Data from the Office of Personnel Management show about 4,300 VA employees were removed or terminated from federal service for disciplinary reasons, but that figure does not include forced transfers or retirements. In fiscal 2012, there were 448 career SES employees at VA.

Agencies have the power to remove senior executives who receive unsatisfactory performance ratings – removal can mean termination or a demotion. Senior executives must be removed from the SES if they receive two “unsatisfactory” ratings within five consecutive years, or two “less than fully successful” ratings within three consecutive years. To begin the removal process, the agency must provide a 30-day written notice to the employee outlining the action. The Merit Systems Protection Board can review the action and make a non-binding recommendation to the agency; however, employees cannot appeal the actual performance rating, resulting in removal from the SES.

The House in February unanimously passed legislation including a provision that would ban bonuses for senior executives at VA for the next five years. The provision was part of a larger bill to require public universities to charge veterans attending their schools in-state tuition rates. The legislation would eliminate performance awards for members of the Senior Executive Service through 2018, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save $18 million. A similar bill regarding tuition rates for veterans but without the provision temporarily banning bonuses for VA senior executives was introduced in the Senate.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.