Congress has sent to President Trump a bill (S-114) making a number of changes in hiring and other VA personnel policies aimed at addressing the department’s ongoing difficulties in filling vacancies, particularly in the medical fields, along with a provision restricting the department from rehiring former employees who were separated involuntarily or who did not maintain a satisfactory performance level.

The bill would: create a central database of vacancies in critical-need positions so that applicants not chosen can be quickly considered for a similar vacancy; expand shortcut “direct hire” authority for occupations where there is a severe shortage of candidates; expand to more occupations a requirement that VA annually assess staffing shortages in its medical branch; allow higher salaries for physician assistants; boost training for HR officials on recruitment and retention; and begin a health care management exchange program with the private sector open to employees at GS-14 and above.

It also would: require that political appointees be assessed on their performance in recruitment and retention, engaging and motivating employees, training and developing employees, and holding managers accountable for addressing poor performance; create a track for employees with certain technical skills to be promoted to higher levels without going into management; broaden opportunities for students and recent graduates to be hired non-competitively into permanent positions after completing internship or fellowship programs; require a standard exit survey to better understand why employees leave; and require the VA to produce a plan for filling vacant medical center director positions.

The measure also contains funding to extend by about another six months the Veterans Choice program, which reimburses veterans for getting treatment at other than VA facilities when treatment at one of those is not readily available.