GOP bills would allow VA secretary to fire career executives over performance

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Republicans this week introduced new legislation in the House and Senate that would allow the secretary of Veterans Affairs to fire or demote senior executives if the department chief determines their performance warrants removal.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) proposed the House bill on Tuesday, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) offered a companion measure in the Senate that same day.

Miller said the legislation comes in response to a long-standing backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs and reports of preventable deaths at VA hospitals across the country.

A number of prominent veterans groups quickly backed the bills, including the American Legion, AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Concerned Veterans for America.

“America’s veterans deserve the best possible care and services when utilizing VA facilities and processes,” said Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth. “That’s what this reform legislation is intended to create — better care and more efficient outcomes.”

The VA has said it is taking aggressive steps to reduce the disability backlog, which reached a peak of about 600,000 claims in March and has dropped by 35 percent. “Backlogged” claims are those that have been in the system for more than 125 days.

VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel testified before Congress in September that the preventable-death incidents were not indicative of a systematic problem with VA medical clinics.

“When patient safety incidents occur at VHA, we are committed to identifying, mitigating and preventing additional patient safety risks within the VA health care system,” Petzel said in a statement after the hearing. “We conduct a prompt review to understand what happened, hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar accidents in the future.”

The VA has not commented on the legislation, but agency officials said in a statement this week that the agency must remain competitive to recruit and retain the best people in order to continue our progress. “Changes that would single out VA employees for punishment by removing existing federal civil service rules not only put VA at a competitive disadvantage, but can ultimately harm VA’s ability to best serve veterans,” the officials said.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.
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