The Department of Veterans Affairs has angered and frustrated lawmakers by deciding to stop using their authority to fire senior employees, an authority Congress gave the VA in response to the wait-times scandal of 2014.
"Everyone knows VA isn't very good at disciplining employees, but this decision calls into question whether department leaders are even interested in doing so," House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said Friday.
The expedited firing process was designed to help VA leaders flush out senior officials who had overseen the manipulation of wait times, which prevent veterans from receiving timely healthcare. But it hasn't been used much, and it provoked a number of legal challenges from fired employees.
In response, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has declined to defend a provision of the law that cuts off one way employees can appeal disciplinary decisions.
"[The Justice Department] determined that one aspect of the procedures to review the lawfulness of the employee's removal — the provision giving an administrative judge final and unreviewable discretion to determine if the removal was lawful — violates the U.S. Constitution," a DOJ spokesman told Fox in June.
Lawmakers told the Military Times that DOJ's decision is why the VA decided to stop using the new firing authority, which "all but resets VA accountability rules to two years ago," that paper said.
"While some progress has been made to hold bad actors accountable, there is still a long way to go and choosing to ignore these key reforms is a slap in the face to our veterans," Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in response to the news.
House and Senate lawmakers have been trying to pass additional VA reforms, but disagreements between the parties and between Republicans on either side of the Capitol have bogged down the bills. "This decision underscores the urgent need for civil-service reform across the federal government that enables leaders to swiftly and efficiently discipline those who can't or won't do their jobs — an ability that is presently almost nonexistent," Miller said.