The VA personnel bill (HR-5620) passed by the House may have hit on the combination of provisions enabling a reform to make it into law–after numerous prior attempts hit roadblocks—potentially paving the way for similar changes at other agencies.

In general, the measure would keep the regular disciplinary appeals process for most employees but shorten both the time they have to respond within the agency to the initial notice of proposed discipline and the time to appeal to MSPB and the time MSPB would have to consider the case. For senior executives, time frames also would be shortened and appeals would go instead to an internal review board, also with shortened time frames.

In addition, under certain circumstances the VA could claw back awards and incentive payments already paid; new protections would be added for whistleblowers, including mandatory discipline against those who retaliate against them; and the VA could not pay awards to senior executives in 2017-2021.

The vote on the measure was 310-116, with bipartisan backing and a margin large enough to override a presidential veto. However, while raising some objections to the bill, the Obama administration did not threaten a veto; in addition, the bill would change the process for veterans to appeal disability benefits decisions in a way the White House supports. Also, several good government groups have voiced support for the whistleblower provisions, although they were cool to negative on the appeal rights provisions.

The vote follows several more restrictive bills the House passed on a much more partisan basis, and shifts the focus to the Senate, where a counterpart (S-3170) is pending, along with a bill (S-2921) that has been the main VA reform effort there that differs in several ways.