While much of the attention to the recently signed VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act (P.L. 115-41) focuses on employee disciplinary policies and protections against retaliation, sponsors and the department say a hiring provision also will have a major impact.

The law provides VA with direct hire authority to fill medical center director and network director positions if candidates have a demonstrated ability in the medical profession, health care administration or health care fiscal management. Direct hire authority allows agencies to appoint candidates without use of standard hiring procedures to jobs for which there is a severe shortage of candidates or a critical hiring need to fill positions that traditional hiring procedures aren’t filling.

“Thanks to the new law, VA now has the flexibility to hire qualified health-care executives expeditiously to lead its key health-care organizations without going through a previously cumbersome and time-consuming hiring process,” the VA said in a statement.

The VA has struggled to fill medical care-related positions in the face of competition from the private sector that in many cases pays higher salaries.

Separate legislation (S-1325) pending in the Senate seeks speed up and simplify hiring of medical personnel as well as of regional and local managers. Sponsors said on introducing that bill recently that the VA has some 45,000 vacancies, of which about 38,000 are involved in medical care.