Veterans’ Group Decries VA Decision to Abandon Employee-Accountability Tools
This article originally appeared on the National Review
The Biden administration has chosen to stop using a 2017 law’s enhanced discipline mechanisms for subpar employees, and at least one activist is crying foul.
At the heart of any nation’s pride and gratitude lie its veterans — it is only right that we provide them the highest level of care and respect in return for their service. But the recent decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to stop using a key section of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act has at least one veterans’ advocacy group crying foul.
The 2017 law was signed in the wake of a number of VA scandals. The section now being abandoned — section 714 — was designed to give the VA enhanced tools to discipline subpar employees. It has been undermined by a number of court decisions mandating that the VA meet a higher standard of evidence than the one specified in the statute when disciplining employees, allowing judges to review if the VA’s chosen punishment for an employee matches the employee’s alleged misconduct, and ruling out retroactive application of the statute. The Federal Labor Relations Authority also found that the VA violated its collective-bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees by removing performance-improvement plans from the pre-disciplinary process.
The VA will now rely on disciplinary mechanisms that were in place before the 2017 Act, and will reinstate all employees who were fired under section 714 without first being provided with a performance-improvement plan.
Cole Lyle, the executive director of the veterans’ group Mission Roll Call, told NR that section 714 is “there to expedite the removal of bad employees and hiring better ones in their places” and called the VA’s decision to abandon it a “travesty.” “The VA’s workforce has grown exponentially in recent years,” Lyle said. “But this hasn’t halted the seemingly endless scandals, inefficiencies, and lapses in accountability that still plague the agency.” Lyle pointed to a recent poll of veterans conducted by Mission Roll Call, which showed that a staggering 89 percent disagreed with the VA’s move to stop enforcing the Act’s provisions. “They’re not just disappointed. They are worried. They understand that this decision exposes them to potential negligence and harm,” he said.
VA secretary Denis McDonough has argued that “Section 714 wasn’t really helping us necessarily manage our workforce as much as it was getting us in front of federal judges and in front of administrative bodies,” and that “we do think that we have what we need to manage our authorities outside that, Section 714.”
From Lyle’s perspective, the VA’s decision places the interests of its employees above the interests of veterans.
“We need to remember that the VA exists to serve the veteran, and we need to keep the individual veteran’s needs and experiences at the forefront of every decision we make,” he said. Instead, “[in] this administration, in particular, the VA seems to favor outside union groups when it comes to accountability for employees.” The VA did not respond to a request for comment.