House Once Again Targets VA Bonuses

By Eric Katz

May 1, 2014

The House on Wednesday passed an amendment to the Veterans Affairs Department spending bill to prohibit bonuses for any senior executives at VA in fiscal 2015, despite outcry from federal employee groups that say the ban will drive employees out of federal service.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., passed without objection by voice vote. The larger, $71 billion spending bill, which also appropriates funds for military construction projects, passed easily by a 416-1 vote.

“Paying bonuses to senior executives of an organization with an abysmal performance record is ridiculous,” Rothfus said on the House floor when introducing his amendment. “These valuable resources should be used to ensure that our veterans receive the first-rate service and care they rightfully deserve.”

The House cleared a similar amendment during last year’s appropriations process for fiscal 2014, but the Senate never took up the legislation. The Republican-controlled House has repeatedly targeted the VA after the agency has consistently displayed poor oversight and fallen short of claims backlog reduction goals. Members have passed several bills to eliminate bonuses and to make it easier to fire executives.

Still, the VA and advocacy groups disapproved of the measure.

“The action by the House today was unnecessary and does nothing to address the critical issues of the claims backlog and access to patient care,” the Senior Executives Association said in a statement. “A blanket ban on performance awards only serves to punish those senior executives who are high performing and those who may not have a direct line of responsibility for the issues being raised in Congress.”

A report on the original language of the spending measure said members’ concerns over senior executives’ bonuses had been “assuaged.”

“VA has centralized senior executive award decisions, strengthened the link between organizational performance and awards, added an additional level of review in consideration of awards, and significantly reduced the value of awards compared to prior years,” the report stated. “Most importantly, the secretary has demonstrated his willingness to use the bonus system as a way to reward and penalize staff based on performance.”

VA has made progress delivering care to veterans,  the department said in a statement. “VA must remain competitive to recruit and retain the best people in order to continue our progress." the statement said. 

By Eric Katz

May 1, 2014