Sanders’s bill allows for VA firing appeals

The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is considering legislation that allows for the expedited firing or demotion of Senior Executive Service (SES) members, but would allow them an appeal process.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee/C-SPAN
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. (C-SPAN)

The draft bill by  Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) provides a more reasonable approach to disciplining Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees than legislation passed by the House and a Senate panel. Those measures would strip SES members in the VA of certain civil service protections by not allowing them the  appeal rights of  employees in other agencies.

Sanders’s bill will be discussed at a hearing Thursday.

Both the House bill and Sanders’s draft say the VA secretary “may remove any individual from the Senior Executive Service if the Secretary determines the performance of the individual warrants such removal.” Removal can mean firing or transferring the employee to  “any grade of the General Schedule” deemed appropriate.

But unlike the House bill, Sanders’s draft says employees can appeal firings and demotions to the the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)  “not later than 7 days after such removal or transfer. MSPB would be required to expedite the appeal and “issue a decision not later than 21 days after the date of the appeal.”

In an interview with The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe, Sanders said that under the House bill a new president could “fire hundreds of high-ranking VA officials without due process or particular reason…You want to be able to get rid of people at the VA who are incompetent in a very rapid way, but you have to have due process.”

The SES is the top category of federal civil servants, serving just below presidential appointees. The Office of Personnel Management says SES members are “charged with leading the continuing transformation of government.”

But in the wake of the VA scandal over cover-ups of  long wait times for patients, SES staffers in the VA have been the target of congressional attempts to facilitate their firing and eliminate their bonuses.

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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