New Bill on VA Employee Rights Could Break Logjam

A new bill in the Senate, offered with bipartisan support, could break the long-standing logjam in Congress over proposals to shortcut the disciplinary appeals process.

The bill (S-1094) was offered shortly after a federal appeals court overturned a major change enacted in the wake of the VA patient scheduling and care scandal. That provision, in a 2014 law, set shorter notice and appeal time limits for SES members there, while allowing appeals only to an MSPB hearing officer, whose decision would be final and who would have to defer to the agency if the deadline for issuing a decision couldn’t be met.

Since the 2014 law’s enactment, there have been numerous proposals to extend similar principles to SES members government-wide and to all levels of the VA’s workforce. While those bills passed the House they stalled in the Senate, largely due to opposition by Democrats there.

However, the new bill has among its original sponsors three Democrats prominent in civil service and veterans issues. It would shorten the appeals process for all employees, lower the agency’s burden of proof in supporting its decision, bar the use of paid administrative leave while the appeal is pending, and steer appeals by VA senior executives to a process within the department.

The measure also would: require the VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers; make addressing poor performance and misconduct among employees part of a manager’s annual performance plan; allow the department to rescind cash awards or relocation incentives if it later deems them improper for various reasons; reduce the retirement benefits of an SES member convicted of a job-related felony; and require more training of supervisors on civil service rights, use of employee rewards, and addressing poor performance.