Several federal employee organizations have continued to raise concerns about the potential impact on a merit-based civil service of a bill streamlining the disciplinary process at the VA, but those concerns no longer seem to be convincing enough to block enactment of those changes into law.
The Senate’s passage of S-1094 cleared a hurdle that had blocked prior bills passed by the House for several years, largely due to the Senate’s general rule that a 60-vote majority is needed there rather than a simple majority. This year’s House-passed version had only 10 Democrats in support, for example.
However, the Senate bill, while lowering the standards for management’s decisions to be upheld on appeal and shortening timeframes, would not shorten them as much as would the House bill. Also, the Senate version does not contain several provisions of the House bill that most Democrats saw as overly restrictive of union rights. The Senate passed its version on a voice vote, meaning that members did not go on record–but it had seven Democrats among its nearly 40 sponsors going into the vote.
The result is that several leading House Democrats on veterans issues who opposed the House bill have said they will support the Senate version if it is brought to a vote in the House. House Republican leaders may choose that course rather than insist on a conference with the Senate and risk losing that support by continuing to press for the more restrictive House provisions.
Despite that change on Capitol Hill, the Senior Executives Association for example said the bill threatens “an increase in politically motivated firings . . . a return to the spoils system of patronage that was a hallmark of the federal civilian workforce prior to the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883, and its modernizing legislation, the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.” That mirrored sentiments expressed by the AFGE union, which represents many rank and file VA employees.
The administration has not commented specifically on the Senate bill but the VA has called for enactment of such changes and President Trump is expected to sign the measure if it reaches him.