House Votes to Ban Bonuses For Some Federal Senior Executives

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised passage of the bonus ban. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised passage of the bonus ban. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department would not receive bonuses in fiscal 2017 under a major spending bill the House passed on Thursday.

The fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations measure includes a provision that prohibits the department from using any funds in the legislation for senior executives’ performance awards. It’s the first time the language has been included in the base MilCon-VA spending bill. An amendment banning bonuses for all VA senior executives was successfully added to the fiscal 2016 MilCon-VA legislation, but was not included in the eventual omnibus package Congress had to pass at the end of last year to avoid a government shutdown. There have been other legislative efforts over the past few years to limit or prohibit VA’s senior executive corps from receiving annual performance awards, for which they are eligibler under Title 5.

The Senate’s fiscal 2017 MilCon-VA spending bill does not include a similar outright ban on bonuses for all VA senior leaders, but it does contain a measure that would prohibit department supervisors who commit a prohibited personnel action from receiving bonuses for one year, “and any award of bonus paid during that period shall be recouped.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., praised the passage of the legislation, specifically citing the bonus ban provision.

“The VA continues to be led incompetently as problems with wait times, the disability claims backlog, and a lack of basic services let our veterans down,” McCarthy said. “This legislation includes reforms that House Republicans have long called for, such as a provision to stop bonuses to VA employees who don’t do their jobs and increased resources to tackle the disability claims backlog that has been a problem for too many years.”

The White House has threatened to veto the House MilCon-VA bill, opposing several provisions, including the bonus ban. “This provision would decrease morale among VA's workforce, disadvantage high-performing SES employees, and could prevent VA from attracting and retaining top talent committed to serving veterans,” said the statement of administration policy issued by the Office of Management and Budget.

The Senior Executives Association objected to the measure as well, saying the ban would hurt recruitment and retention of top career leaders when the department needs them the most. "A universal ban on performance awards for senior executives at the VA would effectively eliminate the SES pay-for-performance system, which was modeled after the private sector in an effort to recruit, retain, and reward the government’s best executives,” said SEA Interim President Jason Briefel, in a statement. “SEA wholeheartedly supports holding individuals accountable for wrong-doing, but true accountability requires that a fair and impartial system be in place, and that good work be rewarded. Implementing broad brush policies within an already fragile department will only serve to increase the VA’s troubles, not improve them.”

The fiscal 2017 MilCon-VA bill appropriates money for housing, training and equipment for military personnel and funds vets’ benefits and programs. The legislation provides $81.6 billion in discretionary funding, $1.8 billion more than the fiscal 2016 level. That discretionary funding figure includes $73.5 billion for the VA alone; adding mandatory funding to the number, the legislation includes a total of $176.1 billion for the VA.

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