VA chief: fast firing authority will improve morale

President Trump is expected to sign a bill granting new authority to fire and discipline VA employees on an expedited basis. Secretary David Shulkin thinks the measure will help improve flagging morale at the agency.

VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin speaking at a June 20, 2017 Monitor Breakfast. Photo credit: Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
 

VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin. (Photo credit: Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor)

On June 23, President Donald Trump is scheduled to sign a bill giving the Secretary of Veterans Affairs new authority to fire and discipline employees on an expedited basis. VA Secretary David Shulkin thinks the measure will help improve flagging morale at the agency.

"When you've been doing something for years and it's not working, you can either continue to follow the same exact path or you seek change. I am seeking change, and I desperately need that change," Shulkin said at a June 20 event with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which passed both houses of Congress, gives the VA chief new power to suspend or sack employees over allegations of misconduct or poor performance, and shifts the appeals process for senior executives from the Merit Service Protection Board to an in-house review panel at VA.

"This is going to dramatically improve morale not hurt morale," Shulkin told reporters.

"There is nothing more demoralizing than being in an organization, working alongside people that everybody knows no longer shares the values, morals and ethics of the vast majority of people who go to work every day for the right reasons," Shulkin said.

He argued that the VA is competing for talent not with other government agencies with stronger civil service protections, but with private sector health organizations where the government's rules of the road don't apply.

Shulkin noted that disciplinary processes can take years to conclude, and he complained specifically that the "MSPB would bring back people that a reasonable manager in the private sector would not have to deal with."

At the same time, Shulkin does not see the new authority as a potential threat to the VA's workforce of more than 350,000 career feds.

"I do not see this is as a tool that's going to lead to mass firings. I would never support that," Shulkin said. "It's going to be used on a small number of people who clearly have deviated from accepted practices and norms."

Senior Executives Association President Bill Valdez opposed the bill, warning in a June 7 letter that the change of civil service protections and MSPB appeals could lead to "a return to the spoils system of patronage that was a hallmark of the federal civilian workforce prior to the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883, and it’s modernizing legislation the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978."

Federal employee unions have also spoken out against the bill. J. David Cox, Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told a Senate panel in May that there were already the necessary tools at hand to dole out discipline to problem employees.

"When poor performers are not dealt with it is not because the civil service laws or procedures are too difficult to utilize. It is because managers do not want to put forward the effort to properly document poor performance so that they can remove or demote these people," Cox said.

From Obama to Trump

Shulkin is a rarity in the Trump administration -- a politically appointed holdover from the Obama team. Shulkin credited his predecessor Robert MacDonald, whom Shulkin served as deputy secretary for health, was on the right track and made positive changes, but his experience led him to conclude that "slow, incremental steady change isn't what [VA] needs."

The current president, Shulkin said, "very much looks at this organization like running a business, and he understands that you need to allow the manager of the business to have the freedom to go out and challenge assumptions and to make decisions. And I have found that mandate from him to get this organization fixed and the support and freedom to challenge the old assumptions -- that's exactly what VA needs right now."

Trump, said Shulkin, "came in to set a fundamentally different course correction when it comes to providing services to veterans," and he plans to stock VA with leaders who reflect this.

"I'm looking for a different type of leadership style from people in my organization," he said. "Inherently, that's going to be associated with taking risks. I'm going to support that as long as it's measured, and we can turn it when we need to adjust course on these decisions. Acting quicker and more decisively is part of that management style."

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.