Federal workers fearful that the new weekly postings of lists of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee terminations and other disciplinary actions will be extended to other agencies have little to worry about in the immediate future, The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group has learned.
Garnering reactions from spokesmen at 16 cabinet-level departments and agencies was all but impossible Monday and Tuesday when TheDCNF asked about whether others were considering adopting the VA’s approach. None of the executive branch representatives — including those from the White House press office — offered concrete comment for or against a policy change that VA Secretary David Shulkin said Friday is “an important step” toward creating “a culture of accountability at VA.” The policy change was initiated at VA, not the White House.
Under the new policy, digital lists of “terminations, demotions and suspensions” from among VA employees department-wide will be updated weekly. (RELATED: YOU’RE FIRED! Trump’s VA Terminates 500, Suspends 200 For Misconduct)
A spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers the federal workforce, said no other departments or agencies had inquired about the VA policy. The OPM Fedscope database showed about 200,000 of the 2.1 million federal civil servants left the government annually between 2011 and 2016. The largest number of involuntary terminations was 2,590 in 2014.
The VA workforce includes more than 330,000 employees, making it the largest of the federal civilian agencies. The department has been the focus of a national scandal for more than five years as a result of revelations of dozens of veterans dying while waiting for medical appointments that were falsely scheduled, as well as a host of other examples of waste, fraud and abuse.
Elsewhere, the VA chief’s new posting policy drew substantial support.
Former OPM Director Donald Devine hailed VA’s policy, telling The DCNF “congratulations to Secretary David Shulkin for his bold move to require public listing of firings and demotions at VA as a first step to toughen its management in making personnel decisions.”
Devine headed OPM under President Ronald Reagan and oversaw implementation of numerous civil service reforms in the areas of performance-based management and evaluations of employees. He said he would support expanding the VA initiative elsewhere in the government.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, said the speaker supports the new VA policy.
“Speaker Ryan believes employees at the VA who are not actually serving America’s heroes who have bravely served for us should no longer be there,” Strong said.
Asked if Ryan would favor extending the policy to other federal agencies, Strong said “he would need to see a specific proposal before making a commitment, of course, but as a general principle, the speaker supports removing poor performers from the federal workforce.”
A key member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also expressed enthusiasm for Shulkin’s new policy.
“The VA has underserved and failed our veterans for years, and I’m glad to see that people are being held accountable,” Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan told the IG. “Across the government, agencies should be run more similarly to businesses by giving bosses greater ability to remove bad employees.” Jordan is a member of the oversight panel’s subcommittee that deals with government workforce reform issues.
“This is the administrative state and where you have a lack of accountability, these are the kinds of steps that are necessary,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told TheDCNF. “If it’s a story about reducing the size of the federal government and holding employees more accountable, it’s a good move.”
Asked if he would favor expanding the policy beyond VA to other federal departments and agencies, Fitton responded, “Yes!” His group is a non-profit government watchdog that has filed and litigated hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning transparency and accountability in government.
Also enthusiastic was John McGlothlin, counsel for the Cause of Action Institute. McGlothlin, a former Army paratrooper and an Arab linguist who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said “just like in the private sector, federal employees who abuse their positions or fail to perform the jobs they are paid to do should be let go … the actions by Shulkin will empower VA employees who are dedicated to their jobs and give veterans better access to medical care, education, and other crucial benefits.”
Less enthusiastic was Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, who said the posting approach “causes us a lot of concerns because they don’t tell you who the employees are or what they’ve done, so it’s not a transparency tool.”
Brian, whose group is also a non-profit government watchdog, said, “most of those on the list are not managers. There are so few people in upper management that it’s likely just to lower morale. It sends the wrong message that managers don’t have to worry about being held accountable.”
J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), told Government Executive magazine the posting policy is a “window-dressing reform” and “intimidation tactic.” The AFGE represents the majority of VA workers.
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