Following an arbitrator’s decision in a union-filed complaint, the VA has stopped, at least temporarily, publicly reporting data on disciplinary actions taken against its employees.
Since mid-2017 the VA had been posting on its website monthly summaries of disciplinary actions as part of the response to scandal over waits for appointments and other care issues–which had resulted in several changes in law to speed up discipline and give management a stronger hand. The final report for calendar year 2018, for example, showed 3,106 removals, 199 suspensions of 14 days or more and 102 demotions out of a workforce of about 360,000 employees.
Posting of that data has been viewed as a possible precedent for other agencies to follow, with the administration and some Republicans in Congress citing it as furthering accountability. The AFGE union, which represents about 260,000 VA employees, and some Democratic members of Congress noted that the figures showed that disciplinary actions were being taken disproportionately against lower-level employees with no responsibility over matters such as wait times and care.
The union further asserted that although the reports did not include names, they violated employees’ rights under the Privacy Act, VA’s internal policies and the AFGE-VA contract. The arbitrator agreed that “despite the agency’s effort to scrub information derived directly from records relating to particularly-identifiable employees, the employees remain identifiable by others,” especially fellow employees, since it included information on the organization, position, action taken and effective date.