VA Makes Public List of Adverse Actions Against Employees

by Sandra Basu

August 8, 2017

First Agency to Post Disciplinary Activities

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—With persistent questions of accountability and transparency dogging VA in recent years, the agency became the first federal agency to post public information on disciplinary actions taken against employees.

“Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know what we’re doing to hold our employees accountable and make our personnel actions transparent. Posting this information online for all to see, and updating it weekly, will do just that,” VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, announced in a written statement.

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Is it appropriate for VA to publish public information on disciplinary actions taken against employees?

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The list consists of adverse employee actions taken since Jan. 20. This information is posted at http://www.va.gov/accountability and will be updated weekly, according to the agency.

The VA explained that the adverse action list does not include employee names, although it provides information on the position, VA region or administration and type of adverse or disciplinary action taken.

The list, which was first made available last month, includes terminations, demotions and suspensions since the new administration came into office Jan. 20. More categories of punishment will be added in the future, according to the agency.

The 26-page list posted online as of July 3 included hundreds of employees disciplined or removed, including cemetery caretakers, registered nurses, medical support assistants, and physicians, among others.

In a related matter, Shulkin said that he is requiring approval by a senior official of any monetary settlement with an employee over the amount of $5,000.

“Taxpayers need to know that we will engage in good faith settlement negotiations, where required by third parties, but will look to settle with employees only when they clearly have been wronged or when settlement is otherwise in veterans’ and taxpayers’ best interests, and not as a matter of ordinary business,” Shulkin said.

VA Accountability

Shulkin called the new public list a “follow-on” to the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed by the president at the end of June.

That new law makes it easier for VA to remove, demote or suspend (for longer than 14 days) any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct with a shortened timeline. It also bars VA from using this removal authority if the employee has an open whistleblower complaint/case with the Office of Special Counsel.

In addition, it provides the secretary with the authority to reduce an employee’s federal pension if they are convicted of a felony that influenced their job at VA. It also allows the secretary to recoup a bonus provided to an employee who engaged in misconduct or poor performance prior to receiving the bonus and to take back any relocation expenses under certain circumstances, such as fraud waste or malfeasance that were authorized for an employee.

Shulkin had been pushing for Congress to pass the bill.

“It’s common sense we need to hold our employees accountable for their actions if they violate the public trust, and at the same time protect whistleblowers from retaliation. This legislation will help us do just that,” he said.

Prior to passage of the bill, lawmakers had tried unsuccessfully in previous years to pass accountability legislation but could not come to agreement. The most-recent legislation passed the House with the support of 231 Republicans and 137 Democrats.

“There is no doubt this has been a challenging piece of legislation, but thanks to the leadership of members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers we were able to find good compromises and come up with a strong piece of legislation that will improve the veteran experience at VA facilities across the country,” said VA Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) after the bill was signed into law.

The bill was supported by several advocacy groups.

“Given that the scandal in Phoenix alerted the country to the outrageous state of the VA health care system nearly three years ago, this change is long overdue,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA) founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff.

Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan said the organization was “especially pleased to see improved protections for whistleblowers.”

On the other hand, Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, voiced his displeasure with the bill.

“Weakening VA employee protections will not make the VA more accountable; it will likely do the exact opposite,” he said. “It is clear that Congress wanted to do something to increase accountability at the VA, and I share in that desire, but eliminating worker protections was not the right approach. History will not look back favorably on what this bill does or how it was rammed through Congress by politicians desperate to put a feather in their cap.”

 


22 Comments

  • Julian Parra says:

    We are citizens of the United States of America and have a right to privacy. This is equivalent to the pillory boxes used to punish people in less “civilized” times.

  • Kathy says:

    In my federal career, I had one supervisor who had asked me to do unethical things that I refused to do to make his numbers look better. He used to call me all the time and half yell at me regarding his numbers. As a result he did a false formal admonishment which I had removed from my file after filing an EEO complaint. As soon as the first one was removed per our mediation, he submitted a second one which is now in EEOC again. When I applied for other positions even though he was my former supervisor, he would bad mouth me and tried to tarnish my reputation. Luckily several people I interviewed with listened to my side and actually hired me so I was able to transfer. I have been an exceptional performer all my federal career exceeding the bar and helping improve my department and the care our Veterans receive. If this was to be allowed my false admonishments would be part of public record, even though removed via EEOC settlement.

  • Audricia Brooks APRN FNP-BC says:

    My concern is that staff and subordinates will be unduly represented on this list. While management and leadership will be able to avoid this kind of recognition. While some actions may warrant public notification, all of them do not.

  • Julian Parra says:

    We are citizens of the United States of America and have a right to privacy. This is equivalent to the pillory boxes used to punish people in less “civilized” times.

  • Kathy says:

    In my federal career, I had one supervisor who had asked me to do unethical things that I refused to do to make his numbers look better. He used to call me all the time and half yell at me regarding his numbers. As a result he did a false formal admonishment which I had removed from my file after filing an EEO complaint. As soon as the first one was removed per our mediation, he submitted a second one which is now in EEOC again. When I applied for other positions even though he was my former supervisor, he would bad mouth me and tried to tarnish my reputation. Luckily several people I interviewed with listened to my side and actually hired me so I was able to transfer. I have been an exceptional performer all my federal career exceeding the bar and helping improve my department and the care our Veterans receive. If this was to be allowed my false admonishments would be part of public record, even though removed via EEOC settlement.

  • Audricia Brooks APRN FNP-BC says:

    My concern is that staff and subordinates will be unduly represented on this list. While management and leadership will be able to avoid this kind of recognition. While some actions may warrant public notification, all of them do not.

  • Frank D. Foster says:

    I would like to here the unions viewpoints?

  • U Inge Ferguson DO says:

    I’m not sure what benefit there is to such posting other than showing that VA is ‘doing something’ by dismissing staff. Improved Outcomes I would presume is the long term goal. Public record of dismissals may excite the public but reduce moral among workers, like witch hunts and public hangings. Public display of dismissals may not improve outcomes and may even lead to harm. While no names are listed, still there are identifiers. Encourage and reward those where good outcomes are noted!

  • Frank D. Foster says:

    I would like to here the unions viewpoints?

  • U Inge Ferguson DO says:

    I’m not sure what benefit there is to such posting other than showing that VA is ‘doing something’ by dismissing staff. Improved Outcomes I would presume is the long term goal. Public record of dismissals may excite the public but reduce moral among workers, like witch hunts and public hangings. Public display of dismissals may not improve outcomes and may even lead to harm. While no names are listed, still there are identifiers. Encourage and reward those where good outcomes are noted!

  • Helen Morrison says:

    If that is going to happen, then all government employees should be treated exactly as the VA employees. Singling out one agency seems to go against our mission of treating everyone as equal.

  • David Ramsey says:

    We also need to fire people who don’t come to work.

  • Helen Morrison says:

    If that is going to happen, then all government employees should be treated exactly as the VA employees. Singling out one agency seems to go against our mission of treating everyone as equal.

  • Robert Greenhalgh says:

    A step in the right direction, for worker bees. But why not do a similar thing for facility directors?

    Enhance accountability of leadership of each facility, by publishing a facility-by-facility list of the quantity of legal cases WON by worker bees against each facility? Key here, is that long before any court ruling against a given V.A. facility, the facility Director must have approved an adverse action against the worker bee, which then the worker bee had to challenge in court. Courts do not “automatically” favor anyone. They are an impartial 3rd party. If they rule in favor of employee, and against the particular V.A. facility, then doesn’t that suggest that the particular facility Director had been acting politically or unethically? Multiple adverse rulings against a facility would strongly suggest that. Political or unethical Directors should be shown the door. So publish the yearly number of successful employee actions against each facility.

  • Suma Kote says:

    This information should not be made public unless it is a general practice in all other health care facilities & settings & institutions.

  • Robert Greenhalgh says:

    A step in the right direction, for worker bees. But why not do a similar thing for facility directors?

    Enhance accountability of leadership of each facility, by publishing a facility-by-facility list of the quantity of legal cases WON by worker bees against each facility? Key here, is that long before any court ruling against a given V.A. facility, the facility Director must have approved an adverse action against the worker bee, which then the worker bee had to challenge in court. Courts do not “automatically” favor anyone. They are an impartial 3rd party. If they rule in favor of employee, and against the particular V.A. facility, then doesn’t that suggest that the particular facility Director had been acting politically or unethically? Multiple adverse rulings against a facility would strongly suggest that. Political or unethical Directors should be shown the door. So publish the yearly number of successful employee actions against each facility.

  • Suma Kote says:

    This information should not be made public unless it is a general practice in all other health care facilities & settings & institutions.

  • Jack: says:

    With some of the proposed legislation, admonishments and reprimands could be kept in your E-opf indefinitely. Another issue is keeping employees as probationary indefinitely as well.

  • Jack: says:

    With some of the proposed legislation, admonishments and reprimands could be kept in your E-opf indefinitely. Another issue is keeping employees as probationary indefinitely as well.

  • Gary Roberts says:

    Cemetery caretakers? Seriously? Is this the hidden hotbed of corruption and dysfunction in the VA? Conspicuous by absence are senior administrators and those with decision and policy making authority. Ceremonial termination of underlings may provide a local Band-Aid and the appearance of change but there will be no fundamental alteration in the status-quo.

    Once again, the VA excels in the triumph of style over substance.

  • Gary Roberts says:

    Cemetery caretakers? Seriously? Is this the hidden hotbed of corruption and dysfunction in the VA? Conspicuous by absence are senior administrators and those with decision and policy making authority. Ceremonial termination of underlings may provide a local Band-Aid and the appearance of change but there will be no fundamental alteration in the status-quo.

    Once again, the VA excels in the triumph of style over substance.

  • David Ramsey says:

    We also need to fire people who don’t come to work.


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