Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Congress passes VA Accountability Bill and Whistleblower Protection Act

On June 13, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (S.1094), a bill that weakens longstanding civil service protections for VA employees. The legislation originated in the Senate and passed that chamber by a voice vote because of the reluctance of senators to engage in a debate on the issues. The House, however, passed the bill 368-55, with seven members not voting. It now heads to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

The bill, while purporting to improve the operation of the VA, fails to address key problems such as filling the 49,000 vacancies that exist at the VA. It also undermines civil service protections that ensure VA employment is based on merit and not on political affiliation.

The legislation overrides negotiated grievance and arbitration procedures in existing collective-bargaining agreements entered into by the VA. Additionally, it significantly lowers the standard of evidence that the agency must satisfy to remove an employee for misconduct. This likely would result in large-scale firings and an increase in the targeting of frontline employees—many of whom are veterans—for unjust reasons, including politics and retaliation for reporting mismanagement.

Equally as troubling as the lowering of the evidentiary standard is the inability of a Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) administrative judge to mitigate the penalty proposed by the agency. The purpose of mitigating penalties is to ensure that agencies do not impose unduly harsh punishment for offenses that do not merit it. With the lowering of the evidentiary standard and the inability of the reviewing body to mitigate a penalty, unjust firings will result.

As part of the Federal-Postal Coalition, NALC worked alongside our fellow coalition members to try to educate members of Congress on the potential implications of this legislation for the federal workforce. Click here to read our letter.

Even though this legislation only affects the VA, these types of bills are harmful to the federal workforce as a whole. Such proposals can set a dangerous precedent for important civil service protections that apply to the entire federal workforce and provide a safeguard against corruption, mismanagement and political favoritism. NALC will remain actively engaged against such proposals.

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