House votes to make it easier to fire VA employees for misconduct
© Greg Nash

The House passed legislation on Thursday that would give the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) more power to quickly remove employees for misconduct.

The measure, approved largely along party lines on a vote of 237-178, allows the VA more leeway to punish employees found to be incompetent or engaged in wrongdoing. 

It would authorize the VA secretary to reduce an employee’s federal pension if convicted of a felony that influenced work at the agency and recoup bonuses given to employees who engaged in misconduct or poor performance.

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“To bring real reform, we need to provide Secretary [David] Shulkin with the tools he needs to swiftly discipline employees who don’t meet standards our veterans deserve or who fail in their sacred mission to provide world class health care and benefits to the men and women who have served,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the bill’s author. 

Democrats warned that the provisions expediting the process to remove incompetent workers would undermine longstanding workplace protections for federal employees. 

Under the legislation, employees would be given advance notice of the VA secretary’s decision to fire, demote or suspend them. But the VA secretary would have to make a final decision within 15 business days after receiving the employee’s response. The employees would have less time to appeal the decision, with an administrative judge having 45 days to issue a ruling.

“If there's an employee not performing well, that employee ought not to be kept on,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who represents more than 60,000 federal workers. “There are ways that this could be dealt with that, in my view, will not undermine the civil service protections that are important not only for the employees but for the system itself.”

Three Republicans — Reps. Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Don YoungDon YoungAlaska lobbies for defense boost after North Korea launch Puerto Rico statehood bid a total failure Lawmakers move to protect funding for climate change research MORE (Alaska) — voted with Democrats in opposition, while 10 mostly centrist Democrats voted with the GOP in support.

The House also passed legislation Thursday to prevent the VA from sending information about a veteran to the FBI’s background check system for gun purchases unless a judge has determined that the person is a danger to themselves or others.

Lawmakers are expected to consider a measure on Friday to enhance the VA's employee recruitment process.