Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sens. Moran, Ayotte, Rubio and McCain introduce bill to reform VA accountability

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) today introduced the Senate version of the Increasing VA Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015, S.290, legislation to give the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more authority to hold corrupt executives accountable for their actions.

The legislation would give the VA Secretary the authority to reduce the pensions of executives convicted of a crime, limit the amount of time VA senior executive service (SES) employees can spend on paid administrative leave, and reform the Department’s performance appraisal system for senior executives.

The House companion bill was introduced last week by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

“Despite the passage of the Choice Act last year, the VA is still not doing enough to hold those responsible accountable for their corrupt behavior when treating our nation’s veterans,” Sen. Moran, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said. “The television cameras may have turned their focus elsewhere, but we will not. This legislation will help make certain VA senior executives found guilty of crimes that put veterans’ lives at risk are held accountable. Our veterans deserve the best our nation has to offer. We cannot allow a system that rewards mediocrity and failure to remain intact.”

“VA employees convicted of criminal conduct in the course of their work shouldn’t be rewarded with bonuses, paid leave and additional pension benefits, and this bipartisan bill builds on important reforms I supported that were signed into law last year to help ensure that senior VA officials involved in wrongdoing are held fully accountable for their actions,” said Sen. Ayotte.  “I will also continue my efforts to revoke bonuses from VA employees who were involved in the manipulation of waitlists.”

“To fix the VA and make sure it achieves its mission of providing high quality and timely health care to our veterans, we must eliminate the culture of incompetence, negligence and underperformance that has been tolerated and, in some cases, even covered up for too long,” Sen. Rubio said. “Last year, I was encouraged that my proposal authorizing the VA secretary to fire bad managers became law. Now we have to make it clear that if you’re a senior VA executive found guilty of criminal activity during your tenure, you should have no guarantee of a bonus or pension. We owe our veterans the very best health care and customer service, and that’s going to be hard to achieve as long as you have VA officials believing there are no consequences for poor work or even criminal behavior.”

“While the Veterans’ Choice Act made progress toward reforming the VA, much more needs to be done to end the corrupt culture that led to the scandal of delayed and denied veteran care, which first began at the Phoenix VA last year,” said Sen. McCain. “This legislation provides important additional authority to the VA Secretary to hold corrupt executives accountable for their actions – including by reducing their pensions and bonuses, and limiting the time they can spend on paid administrative leave. Our veterans deserve a VA they can have trust in, and holding corrupt employees fully accountable can begin to restore their confidence.”

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act (the Choice Act), which contained civil service reforms that gave the VA Secretary the authority to fire senior executives based on misconduct or incompetency, was signed into law on Aug. 7, 2014.

The legislation was passed in response to the biggest scandal in VA history, which centered on appointment wait time manipulation. At the bill’s signing,

President Obama said, “If you engaged in an unethical practice, if you cover up a problem, you should be fired.”

Still, not a single VA senior executive has been fired for wait time manipulation. Instead, corrupt VA employees have been placed on paid administrative leave for several months.

Specifically, the Increasing VA Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015 would:

  • Increase accountability by allowing the VA Secretary to reduce an SES employee’s retirement pension upon conviction of a crime that influenced their work performance by reducing the years of service creditable to the employee’s pension;
  • Reduce waste by limiting the amount of time VA senior executives could spend on paid administrative leave to 14 days unless the secretary can show good cause for an extension;
  • Help end VA’s sordid bonus culture by reforming VA’s SES performance appraisal system so only 30 percent of senior executives could receive top performance ratings and qualify for bonuses; and
  • Require additional transparency regarding SES performance outcomes and require that all SES employees change jobs within the department at least once every five years.