Monday, June 26, 2017

President Trump Signed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblowers Protection Act Last Friday

The Veterans Administration in recent years became a national disgrace: poor, non-existent or delayed medical treatment, bonuses and promotions to non-performing administrators and staffer, falsified reports, decrepit facilities, old technology. Veterans died while waiting for medical care. President Obama appointed General Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Veterans Administration on January 20, 2009. President Trump fired General Shinseki on May 30, 2014. General Shinseki failed to solve the VA’s problems and institutional morass, which existed before the Obama Administration. General Shinseki understood the bureaucratic obstacles when he assumed office. He did not resolve them. He couldn’t get past the civil service protections for most of the VA employees. For example, the independent Merit Systems Protection Board recently overturned the punishment meted out to three senior VA executives. Members of Congress, both Democratic and Republican, were outraged by the VA. They considered an accountability act for the VA last year. President Obama threatened to veto it. He was responding to the pressure of the American Federation of Government Employees, the VA employees union, rather than the veterans. He placed public employee unions above the needs of their charges. Donald Trump made a major campaign pledge to reform the VA. That became true last Friday in a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The House of Representatives approved the bill 368-55 on June 13, 2017. The Senate had unanimously approved it on June 6. President Trump signed it on June 23 with very little press coverage. President Trump expressed the sentiments that President Obama could have said: “Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to this nation, and now we must fulfill our duty to them.” Some of the provisions include removing the appeals process for senior executives from the Merit Systems Protection Board and transferring it to the VA Secretary. . Staffers would have only 180 days to appeal their punishment. They will stay off the payroll during the appeals process if they were dismissed from their positions. The grievance procedure has been cut to 21 days. The notice period for removal has been cut to 10 days from 30 days. The standard to remove an employee has been lowered. No bonuses or relocation expenses could be made to staffers found guilty of wrongdoing or abuse. Managers should address poor performance and mismanagement by staffers since this requirement will now be a factor in the VA’s Secretary annual performance plan. The Act will hopefully improve the medical care we provide our veterans. A larger appropriation for medical providers will also help. The Act should also be a warning to the public sector employee unions that they may be losing their power to protect incompetent and venal workers.

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