NFFE Opposes House Bill to Gut Due Process Rights for VA Employees
In April, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) introduced the inappropriately-titled VA Accountability Act of 2015 (H.R. 1994), a bill that seeks to strip Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees of critical due process rights and eliminate essential whistleblower protections. Under the guise of improved employee accountability and the assertion that it is “too hard” to fire VA employees, H.R. 1994 is little more than a direct attack on dedicated VA employees.
Key components and consequences of the bill would be to dramatically extend probationary periods for new hires and to expedite Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) appeals adjudication periods to an impossible timetable – effectively removing the role of independent reviews for disciplinary decisions/appeals.
Supporters of the legislation have tried to maintain that H.R. 1994 is necessary to eliminate poor performers. However, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management, the VA fired 2,247 employees for disciplinary or performance reasons in fiscal year 2013 alone, more than any other Cabinet-level agency. The truth is that the VA does not have a problem operating within the current structure to handle, discipline, and terminate poor-performers.
A primary element of H.R. 1994 is extending probationary periods for employees to 18 months, while providing the Secretary unilateral discretion to extend the probationary period, severely limiting appeal rights. Extending employee probationary periods would damage workplace accountability because potential whistleblowers would not have the essential protections necessary to expose abuse early in their careers.
Additionally, the bill would erode due process rights by setting unrealistic and unattainable MSPB and appeals adjudication timelines. The bill would require employees to file an appeal before the MSPB within seven days of removal or demotion, with an administrative judge needing to make a final decision within 45 days of receiving that appeal. Otherwise, the original decision becomes final.
In a recent hearing, VA Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Resource Management Human Resources and Administration, Cathy Mitrano, said that the legislation may go too far and prevent employees from adequately defending themselves. Susan Grundmann, Chair of the MSPB, questioned the very constitutionality of such measures when discussing similar language for Senior Executive Service VA employees last year.
“This bill would achieve nothing, while spreading the growing culture of fear plaguing VA employees,” said NFFE National President William R. Dougan. “The provisions in this bill would likely lead to a higher turnover of qualified healthcare professionals at the VA, ultimately resulting in worsening standards of care for the brave men and women that served our country – and all at a higher cost to the American taxpayer. NFFE will work with our allies on Capitol Hill to make sure this bill does not pass.”
Get NFFE’s position paper on H.R. 1994 here.
Read NFFE’s Letter to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on H.R. 1994 here.