The House has approved and sent to the White House for a virtually certain signature by President Trump a bill (S-1094) the Senate had passed only last week to shortcut the employee disciplinary and appeals process at the VA–a quick final resolution of proposals that have been under dispute in Congress for three years, in one form or another.
Rather than insist on a conference to argue for its own positions, the House agreed to a bill not as management-friendly in some ways as the one (HR-1259) the House passed earlier this year. That bill had stalled in the Senate, as had previous House-passed measures, due to opposition from Democrats. However, leading Democrats on veterans issues said the Senate version struck the balance they sought between holding employees accountable and protecting their rights, clearing the way for passage.
For disciplinary actions of greater than 14-day suspensions: the period of notice, response and final agency action–which currently can last many months–would be shortened to 15 working days, and employees could not be kept in paid status for the meantime; the right to appeal to MSPB would be retained, although for both conduct- and performance-related cases the agency would have to meet only the “substantial” evidence standard currently applying only in the former type; the agency decision could not be mitigated, only upheld or rejected; the MSPB process, which can take years otherwise, would have to be concluded in 180 days (as compared with 45 days in the original House bill, for example); and the right to appeal from there into court also would be retained, although employees would have to meet a high standard for the court to rule in their favor.
Other provisions create an internal grievance process for VA senior execs, also with shortened timelines, replacing a former much-shortened MSPB appeal enacted in 2014; and greater protections for whistleblowers including a ban on using the short-cut disciplinary procedures against employees who have made retaliation complaints that are still open.