House moves to make VA and other federal employees more accountable... sort of

We saw last week how the SEIU was preparing to slash their budget and batten down the hatches with Trump coming to town. It’s looking more and more as if those precautions are a good idea because the new Congress is wasting no time in reining in federal costs and accountability. One of the first measures which was addressed right out of the gate was a move – however mild it might seem – to hold workers in the VA accountable for poor performance. (Associated Press)

The House has approved a bill that would require all reprimands and admonishments given to Department of Veterans Affairs employees to remain in their personnel files as long as they are employed there.

The new chairman of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, says the legislation is designed to improve accountability.

The House passed comparable legislation in the last session of Congress, but it failed to clear the Senate.

Before we get too carried away with cheering this development it’s worth remembering that the effect may be limited… but at least it’s a start. Under the current rules system, a misbehaving employing can receive either an “admonishment” or a “reprimand” in their official record. (This is frequently the best you can hope for because it’s still nearly impossible to fire federal workers.) But if the employee does get tagged with an admonishment it only remains in their employment record for two years. A reprimand sticks around for three years. Once that period expires, the incident is erased and can’t be considered if future infractions take place. Under this new rule the record of poor performance will be permanent. Will that actually make it easier to fire anyone? Only time will tell, but I’m not holding my breath.

There may not be a lot of teeth in the VA provisions, but a different measure put into the general rules package will have federal managers quite a bit more nervous. The old Holman Rule is making a comeback, and with it we’ll see the opportunity for Congress to trim the rolls of federal workers and even reduce their compensation if warranted. (Government Executive)

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved a resolution that contains language making it easier for Congress to slash the federal workforce and cut the pay of federal employees.

A provision of the Rules for the 115th Congress governing the House of Representatives will enable lawmakers to reduce the number of federal workers at specific agencies or cut their compensation as a provision of or an amendment to an appropriations bill. The House Policy Committee said the measure will bring back what was known as the “Holman Rule” before Congress eliminated it in 1983. The rule will allow lawmakers to cut the workforce or compensation for employees only at the agencies covered by the specific spending bill in which the provision or amendment is included.

This one doesn’t turn Congress loose to go hog wild on slashing spending, but does provide some measured options in the budgeting process. For any spending bills which apply to a specific department, a provision or amendment can be added which would reduce the workforce or even trim compensation to keep budget goals in line. This is a much smoother route to take since it doesn’t leave it in the lap of the executive branch to handle by the pen or the phone, but instead runs through the normal order of congressional action and presidential approval. Such moves would be much harder to challenge in court.

So is this the new broom sweeping clean? We’ll keep the confetti in the bag for now and see how well the legislative branch actually employs these tools, but it’s certainly an auspicious beginning. Dare we say… is anyone tired of winning yet?

Veterans Affairs office