Does the VA Point the Way Toward Agency Reform?

Everyone knows that under Barack Obama, and perhaps prior presidents, the quality of health care rendered by the Veterans Administration slipped. By the end of the Obama administration, the situation had become catastrophic. This is one of many areas where the Trump administration, together with the Republican Congress, has brought about meaningful reform.

On the Laura Ingraham show this morning, one of my guests was Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. We talked about the considerable progress that has been made on veterans’ affairs in one short year under President Trump. At LifeZette, Brendan Kirby recaps the interview and makes a very important point: the VA can actually fire non-performing employees!

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday that he has fired thousands of underperforming workers under a special personnel authority granted to him by Congress.

Appearing on “The Laura Ingraham Show” with guest host John Hinderaker, Shulkin said it used to take a year or more to fire unsatisfactory VA employees — and then only if their supervisors had the time and persistence to navigate the federal civil service law’s incredibly complex hiring and firing protections for government workers.
Under a law passed with bipartisan support, Shulkin said the process now takes 15 days.

“I’ve been given new authorities by Congress and the president to remove employees that have lost their way and aren’t adhering to professional standards,” he said. “So we’ve been able to remove thousands of employees from VA’s roll and set a standard for accountability so that those employees that are continuing to do an excellent job in serving are surrounded by other employees that have the same commitment.”

Shulkin told Hinderaker that employees still have due process rights. But they cannot drag out the process. The secretary’s ability to remove bad employees must make him the envy of his peers in the Cabinet.

Why is this not a model for the entire federal bureaucracy? The fourth branch of government, the federal bureaucracy, which is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, is now the most powerful branch. Part of the problem is that under the Civil Service Act, it is just about impossible to get rid of a federal employee, even if he devotes his efforts almost exclusively to serving the Democratic Party instead of doing his job.

Then there is sheer sloth: a classic example is the senior EPA employee who told his colleagues that he had been detailed to the CIA on a top-secret project and stopped coming to work for–What was it? Three years?–while continuing to draw his pay from the EPA. Apparently his absence was scarcely noticed, let alone regretted, until he was caught. And the CIA had never heard of him.

If the ability to fire employees has reinvigorated the Veterans Administration, maybe we should try it more broadly. Why can’t Congress amend the Civil Service Act, if that is what it takes, and provide for the dismissal of federal employees who don’t perform–just as happens in the private sector, a/k/a the real world? I think we are on to something here. Let’s rein in the fourth (non-constitutional) branch of government by at least making it possible to get rid of federal employees who aren’t doing their jobs.

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