House backs more accountability from VA managers

June 9

The congressional reaction to the Veterans Affairs Department scandal is starting to reach deeper into the agency, with the House on Monday passing a bill aimed at holding officials more accountable for carrying out recommendations of investigations such as the current probe of allegations that the agency concealed delays in patient care.

(Charles Dharapak/AP) - Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters.
(Charles Dharapak/AP) – Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters.

The bill, passed on a voice vote, targets managers below the levels of the top executives who have been the main focus of attention.

Under the plan, the VA inspector general’s office would track agency management’s response to reports raising issues of public health or patient safety. If the IG determines that goals have not been achieved on schedule, that office would notify the VA Secretary, who would then identify the responsible managers to the IG—who would not make the names public, however.

The managers would be provided with “counseling and a mitigation plan to resolve the issue,” their job evaluations would have to reflect their compliance, and they would be ineligible for a bonus or performance award until the issue is resolved.

The bill originally was introduced last year as a reaction to what a House Veterans Affairs Committee report calls “unacceptable levels” of open recommendations from IG reports—more than 1,000 as of March 2013.

“The Committee believes this provision is the first step toward addressing these issues and creating a culture of accountability within the Department. Congressional action demanding increased accountability is warranted, particularly when it involves problems and deficiencies in VA health care programs and operations related to public health or patient safety in need of corrective actions,” the report said.

The bill cleared the panel last August but then was dormant until the patient scheduling scandal erupted in recent weeks.

The scandal already has resulted in the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki and a House-passed bill  to make it easier for the department to fire or demote Senior Executive Service members on performance grounds without appeal rights. The Senate is preparing a separate bill that would allow them a much-shortened appeals process.

The House and a Senate committee further have voted to temporarily prohibit performance awards to some or all senior executives at VA.

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