Congress Moves to Give VA More Firing Power
Policy + Politics

Congress Moves to Give VA More Firing Power

REUTERS/Samantha Sais

The scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department could get more freedom to fire underperforming employees.

House lawmakers this week will vote on the VA Accountability Act of 2015, which aims to expand a provision enacted last year that gave the VA secretary more latitude to dismiss senior executives.

Related: Obama Says Veterans Affairs Agency Still Needs Improving

Under the new bill, the VA chief would have more power to fire delinquent employees, not just managers, inside the department. The legislation, which the House approved in the last Congress, also shortens the amount of time VA employees have to appeal disciplinary actions.

A companion bill was passed out of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week.

The House vote comes soon after the indictment of Cathedral Henderson, 50, a manager at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Georgia. He was charged with 50 counts of ordering his staff to falsify medical records of veterans waiting for private medical care. Henderson was placed on leave, not fired.

The indictment was the result of investigations launched after the patient-wait time scandal that rocked the Obama administration last year. Months of internal and independent examinations at the time uncovered fraud throughout the VA medical network and prompted Congress to overwhelmingly approve a $16.5 billion package aimed at overhauling the beleaguered agency, including opening more facilities and adding staff.

Related: $16.3 Billion Veterans Affairs Reform Isn’t Working Yet

But Republican lawmakers including House Veterans’ Affairs chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.) have repeatedly accused VA Secretary Robert McDonald of moving too slowly to fire senior levels executives inside the agency.

McDonald, in turn, has fired back at lawmakers, saying he is moving as fast as he can within the parameters of the law.

In addition to the accountability legislation, the House is also expected to vote on a measure that instructs the VA to develop a plan to merge all of the provider programs at facilities outside its own network into a single effort called the Veterans Choice Program.

Related: Veterans Affairs Department Makes the Government’s ‘High Risk’ List

Meanwhile, both chambers are expected to move on legislation designed to give the VA the ability to move around $3 billion in its budget to cover a shortfall and stave off hospital closures next month.