VA Secretary Robert McDonald, under continued fire from Capitol Hill—mostly, but not exclusively, on a partisan basis—for failing to hold poorly performing or misbehaving employees accountable, has reaffirmed his past statements that firing more people does not necessarily make for better management.
“Our employees are good people. I’m proud of them. They care about us. They want to serve us well. And we’re equipping them for success. They’re not all perfect, not by a long shot. But it’s a gross misrepresentation to cherry-pick the worst and hold them up like they represent VA employees,” he said in a recent speech.
“Some people think everything will be fine if we fire more people, more quickly. It’s not true. We can’t fire our way to excellence. Over my 33 years in the private sector, I’ve never encountered an organization where firing people was a measure of leadership. “Now, consequences for behavior inconsistent with our values are part of effective leadership, and we’re committed to that principle. But we won’t punish people based on opinions, recycled and embellished media accounts, or external pressure,” he said.
“Sustainable accountability is leaders and supervisors providing routine feedback. It’s recognizing what’s going well, coaching and re-training when improvement’s necessary. It’s ensuring employees understand how daily work supports our mission, values, and strategy. It’s training leaders to lead and employees to exceed expectations, every day. And, yes, it’s taking corrective action when it’s warranted and supported by evidence,” he said.
He said the VA has fired 3,750 employees over the two years he has led the department–about 1 percent of the agency’s workforce, many of whom likely were removed during their probationary periods—and cited the case of an employee’s conviction on charges of falsifying patient records that could result in fines and prison time as evidence that management is acting.