Lawmakers Look to Boost VA Research by Poaching From Other Agencies, Governments
VA would be better positioned to lead on issues like traumatic brain injury and PTSD, committee leaders say.
Bipartisan congressional leaders have put forward legislation to encourage the Veterans Affairs Department to recruit from other federal agencies and government entities in hopes it will boost the agency’s research capacity.
The VA Infrastructure Powers Exceptional Research (VIPER) Act (H.R. 5721) would let VA make unlimited use of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program, which allows officials from state, local and tribal governments, as well as higher education institutions, to take jobs at federal agencies and vice versa. The program is typically restricted to temporary, two-year assignments, but Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Mike Bost, R-Ill., respectively the top Democrat and Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, are pushing the VIPER Act to lift that cap. The lawmakers said their bill would also allow VA to recruit employees from other federal agencies to take assignments at VA focusing on research.
VA research has led to high-profile developments in the medical field, such as the first pacemaker, prosthetics and the first successful liver transplant. The committee leaders said their bill would continue in that tradition on a variety of issues, including military toxic exposures, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“It’s no secret that research is a jewel in VA’s crown, and we need to ensure that VA can continue to prevent and treat any health challenges our veterans face,” Takano said. “This bill will make VA’s world-class research programs even more efficient, innovative and successful in improving the lives of the veterans they serve.”
The bill would formally authorize VA’s Office of Research and Development, directing it to focus on pre-clinical, clinical and health systems science research. The existing mobility program, which the VIPER Act would expand upon for the Veterans Health Administration, allows qualified individuals to take assignments to or from state, local, tribal or the federal government, as well as certain other institutions. They do not require sign offs from the Office of Personnel Management. Instead, the two entities need only to enter into a written agreement. Under the new bill, an unlimited number of these employees would be able to serve at VA indefinitely.
The VIPER Act would remove the standard restrictions federal workers face on outside salary, provided the money is for research benefiting VA. It would allow the Veterans Health Administration to hire statisticians, economists and others, as well as to enter into transactions with “non-traditional” contractors to boost its research capacity. The bill would ask the Government Accountability Office to study how much time employees actually dedicate to research.
“The VIPER Act will make VA’s ability to deliver groundbreaking advancements on what matters most to veterans even better,” Bost said.
The lawmakers said their bill would reduce “burdensome” paperwork requirements that federal researchers typically face while building an improved pipeline of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering employees to work at VA.