Senators offer new VA bill after court nixes firing measure

A new accountability bill would make it easier for leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire problem employees.

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Leaders of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced a bipartisan bill to crack down on poor performers at the VA, just days after a federal court struck down expedited firing measures included in a 2014 law.

The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act, offered by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Jon Tester (D-Mt.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would give agency leaders the ability to fire VA employees for misconduct and poor performance, and additionally makes it easier to replace poorly performing senior executives. Isakson and Tester are the committee's chairman and ranking member, respectively.

The legislation also changes the appeals process for terminated senior executives. The bill takes the Merit Systems Protection Board out of the loop, and gives the VA secretary jurisdiction over expedited removals.

That part of the legislation appears to address objections by a federal appeals court to 2014 legislation that prevented terminated VA employees from appealing their cases to the full board of the MSPB once an administrative judge had ruled in a case.

The Senate bill also would codify an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the VA. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 27 to establish such an office.

“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation's veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs," Rubio said in a statement.

The bill tracks closely with the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, which passed the House of Representatives in March.

The cosponsors of the House bill, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Tim Walz (D-Minn.), commended the Senate for offering a companion bill.

"I know that the vast majority of the men and women who work at VA take their duty to serve veterans seriously, but bad actors have tarnished the reputation of good employees for far too long," Roe said in a statement. "Our veterans deserve to know that bad actors within the department will be held accountable, and I look forward to supporting this bipartisan bill in the House."

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