The Senate approved bipartisan legislation by voice vote Tuesday to reform civil service protections at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The legislation, dubbed the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act" would make it easier to fire federal employees, including executives.
The legislation follows numerous scandals at the VA in recent years, most notably the manipulation of waiting lists for veterans, with patients dying while waiting for treatment. The bill's authors, Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., argue that a key problem has been the department's inability to sanction or terminate employees because of existing civil service protections.
"This is a change in the laws of our country that will bring accountability to one of the most important functions that our government provides to the men and women who serve us in uniform," Rubio said. "This spring marks three years since light was shed on the veterans who died — died — while they were stuck on secret waiting lists at the Department of Veterans Affairs."
The bipartisan legislation, which has 31 co-sponsors, sailed out of committee last month with unanimous support. In addition to making it easier to fire agency employees, the bill would remove the workers from the payroll should they contest their dismissal. Employees found guilty of wrongdoing would be prohibited from receiving bonuses or being compensated for being relocated. The legislation also would require the VA to evaluate supervisors on their ability to protect whistleblowers.
Public service employee unions opposed the legislation. American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. accused the lawmakers of subjecting VA employees to a "witch hunt."