The House easily passed legislation Wednesday that would make it easier for the Veterans Affairs secretary to fire or demote senior employees, a proposal that gained support after allegations of mismanagement at the agency.
The VA Management Accountability Act was first introduced before the recent firestorm over reports that VA medical facilities concealed long waits for healthcare. But the recent developments led House leaders to accelerate its consideration.
The bill has the backing of veterans groups like the American Legion and a bipartisan list of co-sponsors in the House. Republicans called it an important first step to help the administration fix apparent widespread problems at the VA.
“President Obama is known for talking about accountability without ever holding anyone accountable,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said before the vote. “While the president took little action this morning, the House will act today.”
During a news conference Wednesday, Obama vowed to fix the problems at the agency, but rebuffed calls to fire VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.
The White House has said it would study the bill. The Democratic-controlled Senate has not indicated whether it will take up its own version.
The Senior Executives Assn., which represents federal workers affected by the proposed rules, said the law would deny workers due process and subject career civil servants to the whims of a political appointee.
“While it may seem like a quick fix to fire or demote VA executives (one-third of whom are themselves veterans), our veterans deserve more than a bogus solution,” SEA President Carol Bonosaro wrote to members of Congress this week.
Lawmakers have introduced several other proposals in direct response to the VA controversy. Two Republican senators offered a bill to prohibit the payment of bonuses to Veterans Health Administration employees through the next federal fiscal year.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, has also called on Obama to withdraw his nominee to replace Robert Petzel, who resigned last week as the VA’s undersecretary of health. Cornyn said the department needed a reformer instead of a career administrator.
On Wednesday, two House Democrats also called on Shinseki to resign. Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) said in a statement that “it’s time to give someone else an opportunity to lead the agency and begin the rebuilding process.”