Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) on Wednesday emphasized the importance of a bill aimed at holding incompetent Veterans Affairs employees accountable for misconduct, but expressed his skepticism that VA Secretary Robert McDonald actually wants such power.
Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced the VA Accountability Act 2015 (H.R.1994) in April in response to the lack of action by the Obama administration to punish individuals complicit in the VA fake waitlist scandal.
The legislation, which cleared the House committee 14-10 in a vote Wednesday, would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove or demote a VA employee because of performance or misconduct.
If passed, the legislation would give Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald the authority to remove such employees from civil service or demote them by reduction in grade or annual rate of pay. Employees accused of misconduct or poor performance and subjected to punishment would be entitled to an appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board if taken within seven days of the removal or demotion.
The legislation seeks to build on the bipartisan VA Accountability Act passed last year, which holds senior executives accountable for poor performance.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Miller stressed the importance of the bill to enable McDonald to "punish people for bad behavior" within the VA. Miller said only two employees have been fired from 110 medical centers for helping to maintain fake waitlists.
However, Miller was skeptical as to whether McDonald is in favor of the legislation, saying the official has not come out for or against the bill.
"I would hope the secretary would want to empower his managers to hold people accountable," Miller said.
McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble executive nominated to the VA post by President Obama after Eric Shinseki resigned amid the waitlist scandal, falsely claimed in February that 60 VA employees had been fired for manipulating wait times, a figure the VA later walked back.
Miller said he anticipates the bill will go to the House floor for a vote before the August recess, after which it, if passed, will travel to the Senate where GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is a sponsor. Miller said he intends to gather Democratic and Republican lawmakers to discuss the importance of the bill and emphasize that it does allow due process.
"The federal government has gone amok," Miller said Wednesday, adding that the VA has the potential to serve as a "model" for government reform should the legislation succeed.
The VA has undergone consistent scrutiny since news first broke of the fake waitlists, which resulted in tens thousands of veterans facing health care delays, many dying while waiting for treatment. Most recently, a leaked internal document suggested that nearly one-third of veterans awaiting health care at the VA have already died.