Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com

Hold Senior Executives Accountable, But Don’t Strip Appeal Rights

Why treat VA’s senior executives differently than other senior executives in government?

As Government Executive has reported in detail, the Veterans Affairs Department wants to prevent fired executives from appealing their removals to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Having written multiple books and articles about the need for accountability in government, I have been very clear that agencies need to do more to terminate poor employees, including senior executives. Nonetheless, I am troubled by recent efforts to restrict the appeal rights of senior executives in the VA.

First of all, why treat VA’s senior executives differently than other senior executives in government? These are presumably the people who have worked their way up through the civil service system to the top of their profession. Restricting the appeal rights of many of VA’s best and brightest employees seems to me to be a disincentive for people to enter this cadre, and it creates an incentive for those already there to leave.

Furthermore, is it fair to single out one group of senior executives for special treatment? After all, senior executives elsewhere will still retain the appeal rights that were set up for them when the Senior Executive Service was established.

People often forget that roughly 15 years ago, VA’s healthcare system was considered by many to be the best in the world and VA’s benefits processing was in relatively good shape, and several of its offices received prestigious national awards. What changed was several wars, court cases, political decisions, etc. that resulted in VA being overwhelmed by demand for its services. That of course does not excuse poor performance or shoddy behavior by VA’s senior executives. Poor senior executives should be dealt with in an appropriate manner—that’s not the issue.

If the idea is to make it easier to fire VA’s senior executives (but no other senior executives in government) in order to improve the quality of VA’s senior civil service leadership, I am concerned that the opposite might happen. For example, I suspect that VA might be less likely to attract the best and the brightest leaders if these individuals see they will have better protections by working in any other agency of the federal government.

VA confirmed this by stating that it is feeling “an alarming number of vacant leadership positions, a retirement tsunami on the very near horizon, and an increasingly difficult executive recruitment market.” Of course, the reason why VA has so many vacancies is not due solely to the restriction on senior executive appeal rights. Some, if not much of the problem is probably driven by the pay VA is offering, and as a result, it is proposing to raise the pay of its senior executives, which is definitely a good thing.

I am also concerned that the proposal to further restrict senior executive protections is merely a reaction to just three cases, at least two of which appear questionable from a human resources perspective. Are three cases enough to take future VA cases out of MSPB’s jurisdiction, especially when other cases have resulted in senior executives no longer retaining their jobs?

In my opinion, senior leaders throughout the federal government should be under the same system with the same appeal rights, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, and I don’t see how the three cases cited by VA  rises to that level. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the rationale for establishing the Senior Executive Service was that “top management positions that had been subject to disparate rules and practices, with requirements for prior approval of almost every personnel action, were joined into a unified and distinct personnel system that provided for considerable agency authority and flexibility.”

Given this reasoning, it appears we are going backwards. It didn’t seem fair in 2014 to limit the time frames under which VA’s senior executives could appeal an action and the amount of time MSPB would then have to adjudicate those cases. The shortened time frames for both appellants and MSPB can easily result in poorly reasoned decisions, unnecessary pressure and perhaps the wrong outcome, especially if a rash of removal actions all happen at the same time.

Look at what was involved in adjudicating one of VA’s cases as described by the MSPB administrative judge:

“I want to mention that the time constraints under which this appeal had to be processed made for an incredibly difficult two-and-a-half weeks for everyone involved. Looking at the record in this matter, in excess of approximately 3,800 pages, it is more than obvious that since the day this appeal was filed, the parties have been working almost 24/7.”

Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest that an appellant, the government and MSPB all have a reasonable period of time to resolve an appeal, which is the way things typically work for virtually all other cases in government? That’s not to say that the current system is perfect. The 2014 change and proposed legislation have clearly been driven by a series of outcomes that have caused a great deal of frustration.

While I support giving VA’s senior executives the same appeal rights as every other senior executive in the federal government, I also think that a few simple changes to the law involving the protections for all employees will make the system more effective and efficient, make it easier to hold government employees accountable and address the concerns and frustrations of VA and other agencies. I will address these recommended changes in detail during my next article.

Stewart Liff is an HRM, visual performance management and team development expert. He is the President and CEO of Stewart Liff & Associates, Inc. and is the author or co-author of seven books, including Managing Government Employees and A Team of Leaders. He can be reached at stew@stewartliff.com.

(Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.