More than a month ago we talked about the problems that VA Secretary David Shulkin was having in attempting to fire delinquent D.C. medical center Director Brian Hawkins. The soon-to-be ex-employee was in charge of a center where unsanitary conditions were placing the lives of veterans under his care at risk. On top of that, sensitive VA documents had been sent to his private email server (wait… am I the only person on the planet without a private server?) along with various other irregularities.
After being placed in an administrative position during an investigation, Shulkin moved to implement new policies put in place by the President and fired Hawkins. That didn’t last long because, as a member of the Senior Executive Service, he was able to appeal his firing to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) which almost immediately ordered that he be given his job back.
More time has passed and a new law dealing with handling such administrative actions is on the books. With those tools in hand, Shulkin has made good on his promise and fired Hawkins yet again. (Government Executive)
The Veterans Affairs Department has once again fired a scandal-plagued senior executive, this time using the authorities Congress afforded it and President Trump signed into law in June…
The new law, which became effective after VA’s initial disciplinary action against Hawkins, allows Shulkin to move disciplinary actions more quickly. Because Hawkins is a member of the Senior Executive Service, an appeal would have to go to to a newly formed internal board the law created to handle SES cases on an even more expedited timeframe. The panel would have just 21 days to complete consideration on the grievance.
“We at VA will use the authorities available to ensure our veterans get the highest quality service and care possible,” Shulkin said Wednesday. “This is the right decision for veterans in D.C., and employees at the medical center, and underscores our commitment to hold employees accountable if they fail to do their jobs or live up to VA’s values.”
The law in question is the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act which the President signed in July. It allows for faster reviews in disciplinary cases, particularly for SES (Senior Executive Service) level leaders. In the past it could take months or even years to remove delinquent federal workers, even if they were found guilty of serious crimes. Thanks to the MSPB, one quick appeal could keep them on the payroll indefinitely.
For most of this year the MSPB has been effectively hamstrung, lacking the quorum required to take action. With a few nominations from President Trump that situation is being cleared up, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of the board overruling too many firings for flimsy or even dubious reasons.
Of course, the law has enraged advocates of limitless big government. The Washington Post described the law as a measure which , “erodes civil service due process protections for all VA employees and pointedly facilitates faster firing of department’s 469 senior executives.”
It never seems to cross the minds of those making such claims that virtually nowhere in the real world (outside the government bubble) do people have jobs where they can simply refuse to be fired for years on end after having been found to be grossly negligent or guilty of criminal conduct. Outside the bureaucracy. nobody is guaranteed a job for life once they get their foot in the door. Government employees should be no different. Perhaps – and the jury is still out on this – Hawkins will serve as the test case proving that this may finally be changing.