Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is considering disciplinary action for up to 1,000 employees at the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview scheduled to air Sunday.
“The report we’ve passed up to the Senate committee and House committee has about 35 names on it,” the VA chief said, according to an advance transcript of the discussion. “I’ve got another report that has over 1,000.”
McDonald in recent weeks has faced criticism that he has not acted fast enough to fire employees responsible for the VA’s recent scheduling scandal, a controversy that prompted his predecessor, Eric Shinseki, to resign in May.
The last report McDonald gave to the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Oct. 29, contains a list of 44 personnel whom the department has proposed to discipline. The recommended actions range from firings and demotions to counseling and “admonishment.”
Four of the employees are senior executives, and the rest are rank-and-file personnel such as a pharmacy technician, a mail clerk, nurses and supervisory staff.
The four officials on the list face punishment over alleged connections to the scheduling scandal, which involved widespread falsification of appointment data to cover up treatment delays. It is unclear why the lower-level workers are in the report.
The VA did not immediately respond to a request on Friday evening to clarify the numbers.
The agency said in a statement that McDonald has taken “an unprecedented approach to employee accountability by creating an Office of Accountability Review,” adding that federal authorities are in the midst of more than 100 investigations of VA facilities.
Congress and President Obama this summer approved legislation to ensure that the VA could remove senior executives with greater ease after government reports confirmed the scheduling scandal.
At a breakfast with reporters on Thursday, McDonald defended his approach to cleaning house, saying he is acting as fast as he can under the law and that his new firing authorities aren’t as broad as people might think. He noted that the new statute shortened the appeal process but didn’t give him authority to terminate employees without delay.
“The law didn’t grant any kind of new power that would suddenly give me the ability to walk into a room and simply fire people,” he said at the breakfast. “Our Constitution provides for due process, and we are following the due process.”