Rep. Phill Roe, R-Tenn., wants to make it easier to fire VA employees who aren’t performing. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
A House committee approved legislation to hasten the disciplinary process at the Veterans Affairs Department, despite significant pushback from Democrats who said the measure unfairly targeted rank-and-file employees.
The markup represented the latest effort from Republicans to increase accountability at VA. They’ve tried to expedite firings and suspensions at the department since an initial reform effort in 2014 ran into legal trouble. Democrats insisted they believe in the need to rid VA of problem employees, but said the Republican plan would not properly address the root of the issue.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who authored the VA Accountability First Act and chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, kicked off the markup addressing the criticisms he saw coming. The measure was not an “attack on workers’ rights,” but instead an effort to grant VA Secretary David Shulkin’s request to dismiss employees when he “comes across the very few who are bad.” Roe said he did not buy the argument that the bill would negatively impact recruiting and retention, as bad employees hurt the morale of the rest of the workforce. Noting a common refrain from detractors of firing reform, Roe said the measure would not hurt the large number of veterans who work at the department.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., unveiled the Senate version of the bill. Alex Brandon / AP
A conservative veterans advocacy group is creating a new ad campaign to pressure Congress to enact legislation that would ease the firing of federal employees.
The campaign, run by Concerned Veterans for America, will target 30 House Democrats who could cast key votes on the 2017 VA Accountability First Act. Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as well those who voted for similar legislation in the previous Congress, are among those representing areas in which the ads will run online. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the veterans committee, introduced the bill last week, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., putting forward companion legislation in the Senate. CVA declined to disclose the money behind the campaign, but a spokeswoman called it a “significant investment” that would put “serious pressure” on the targeted members.