Senators Introduce Bill to Increase Accountability at VA

Bipartisan bill protects whistleblowers, makes it easier to discipline bad actors

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the committee, today introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, bipartisan legislation that would reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees and ensure appropriate due process protections for whistleblowers.

“When the VA cannot hold bad actors accountable, everyone loses,” said Isakson. “Taxpayer dollars are wasted on employees who are not fully committed to helping our veterans. Other employees at the VA suffer because they are forced to work alongside or take direction from delinquent individuals. Most egregiously, our veterans suffer because the people responsible for caring for them are putting themselves first – not our veterans. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan measure that will help create a culture of accountability at the VA by giving Secretary Shulkin the tools necessary to discipline bad employees in a timely manner while protecting whistleblowers from the threat of retaliation and ensuring the quality of care that our veterans receive at the VA.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act increases the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels of the department, shortens the removal process and ensures an individual removed from the VA is not kept on the VA’s payroll while appealing that decision. It will also make it easier for the VA to remove poor performing senior executives and replace them with qualified candidates. Additionally, any appeals by senior VA executives would no longer be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, but instead would be handled directly by the VA secretary under an expedited timeline.

“To fully reform the VA and provide our nation’s veterans with the quality care they were promised and deserve, we must ensure the department can efficiently dismiss employees who are not able or willing to do their jobs,” said Rubio. “This legislation would improve on the law we enacted in 2014, and I’m grateful to Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester for working with us to craft a bill that will protect whistleblowers and the many VA employees who are passionate about caring for our veterans, while also empowering the VA to hold bad employees accountable. We must make real changes that put the well-being of our servicemembers before the best interests of bureaucrats.”

“This bipartisan bill will hold bad employees accountable while protecting the hardworking folks who care for our veterans,” said Tester. “The challenges at the VA are many, but tough problems require commonsense solutions and this bipartisan bill is a product of what happens when you put aside politics and work together. I want to thank Chairman Isakson and Senator Rubio for working hard to make the VA stronger and ensure it can better deliver for veterans.”

Last month, Isakson and Tester joined President Trump and Secretary Shulkin at the signing of an executive order to establish the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act will establish in law this newly created office, which mirrors a proposal first introduced by Isakson in his Veterans First Act last Congress.

The legislation also includes a number of other provisions to hold employees accountable, including:

  • Requires the VA to evaluate supervisors based on the protection of whistleblowers;
  • Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan;
  • Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing; and
  • Prohibits relocation expenses to employees who abuse the system.

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., John McCain, R-Ariz., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., are cosponsors of the legislation.

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

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