November 10 - A Sad Day for Veterans

On November 10, SEA sent a press release to media contacts regarding VA Secretary Robert McDonald's plan that would require 1000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs to face disciplinary action.

Press Release:  Washington, D.C. – Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonald announced on "60 Minutes" that, after 3 months in office, he apparently has been able to determine that 1000 of approximately 315,000 employees deserve disciplinary action, including firing. This is nothing short of astonishing, given that firm findings of culpability should engender such a conclusion. We can only assume that it has stemmed from congressional pressure to publicly hold employees accountable for problems that have resulted largely from inadequate funding and the lapses of political leadership.

Mass disciplinary action will not serve the interests of veterans; it will not provide the resources necessary to provide better health care to veterans, it will not attract qualified and able candidates to apply for positions at the department, and it will not encourage the employees remaining to take risks and innovate to improve the quality and timeliness of care. In fact, Secretary McDonald noted that the Department needs 28,000 medical personnel to enable meeting the goal of making appointments for veterans within 2 weeks.

It is with great concern that SEA has watched the process of investigations and terminations of career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) unfold and has concluded that due process is sadly lacking in spite of the Secretary's stated commitment to follow due process.

With regard to the SES, however, the Association understands that the Department must abide by the laws passed by Congress. Nonetheless, we note that:

• The Department is not utilizing the right it retains to take action against employees using the options that already exist under Title 5 of the U.S. Code; this would include proposed firings of career Senior Executives due to misconduct or poor performance. We can only assume that this process, which would enable those executives to appeal and respond to the charges, is not being used due to political pressure.

• The Department is not following the process outlined in P.L. 113-146. We can only assume this process is not being used due to concern that it is, in fact, unconstitutional.

• The Department has apparently developed a new process, notifying Senior Executives of a proposed termination and allowing 5 days prior to taking action. The latter is especially egregious since the executive has no opportunity to respond to the charges, but, rather, only to retire if eligible; this provides a guise of fairness. Again, we can only assume that this process has been concocted to respond to both political pressure and the desire to avoid any challenge of unconstitutionality. Nonetheless, it falls far short of fairness.

SEA President Carol Bonosaro said, "The Senior Executives Association firmly believes that employees should be held accountable for their actions but also that they deserve due process and fair and impartial treatment free from political influence. It is difficult to imagine that there are 1000 career federal employees who are deserving of such action as the VA Secretary suggests. Are there no political appointees to be held accountable? Has Congress had no role in the failings in the Department? Is it possible that the lack of sufficient medical staff, along with pressure to meet appointment time goals, resulted in employees maintaining separate wait lists?

The only employees who can be fired instantly, by law, are career Senior Executives. The others will, hopefully, have their day before the Merit Systems Protection Board. While much of what the Secretary is undertaking, including a single web site, will be beneficial, veterans, regrettably, are likely to pay the price for this unprecedented treatment of civil servants. Veterans deserve more."

The Senior Executives Association (SEA) is a professional association representing Senior Executive Service members and other career federal executives. Founded in 1980, SEA's goals are: to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the federal government; to advance the professionalism and advocate the interests of career federal executives; and to enhance public recognition of their contributions. The SEA Professional Development League (PDL) is a nonprofit educational organization committed to advancing the professionalism of career federal executives through the sponsorship of training, recognition, and research activities.