Federal workers, and especially their career bosses, in every agency have a big stake in how the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal plays out.
In addition to the head-rolling that has already started at the VA — President Barack Obama accepted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation Friday — fallout from the lengthy and possible fatal patient wait-list could compromise the job security of career senior executives governmentwide.
In a worst-case-scenario — from the executives’ standpoint — many of the appeal rights and safeguards that now protect them from political appointees could be abolished. Instead, some in Congress would like members of the SES hired as “at will” employees who could be swiftly canned by their political bosses.
The Senior Executives Association, Federal Managers Association and others have warned that Congress, especially a GOP faction in the House, is out to rewrite feds’ job-security rules, using the VA and previous “scandals” as justification.
The SEA recently noted the fact that senior career executives play roles in overseeing high-level programs and policies “has not been lost on Congress, nor has the fact that they make convenient scapegoats.”
Debra Roth, a top Washington-based federal employment lawyer, says the 24/7 news cycle and the the political partisan climate in the country has been hard on career civil servants. “It’s the age of unrelenting media,” she said.
First, there are the “politicians who love photo ops and the soundbite” and then there’s the short attention span of the public. She said everybody is “fast tracking judgments” while the President and the secretary “are criticized” for waiting until all the facts come in before making a judgment.
Roth was our guest last week on our Your Turn radio program. She pointed to other situations in the past, where she believes politicians and the media have rushed to judgment. Often times getting it wrong. She cited the GSA scandals of a couple of years ago. The “Romp In the Nevada Desert” conference by GSA staffers that definitely got out of hand in many respects. Roth said that three top GSA officials were fired and one resigned. Two of them appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. She said they each had “different judges in different regions” and found that GSA couldn’t prove the officials had actual responsibility for the spending spree. The cases are now on appeal.
The VA situation is highly emotional. For good reasons. Many of the patients involved are very old, very sick and have done a lot for their country. Others are more recent victims of horrible wounds that, in previous wars, would have killed them. Some return home severely wounded both physically and mentally.
Roth said everyone agrees the vets should have the best treatment possible. But she said that career feds, who can’t fight back, shouldn’t be made scapegoats by “hysterical politicians who want to make it look like they’ve done something” before they move on to the next crisis.
Shinseki resigns amid VA health care issues Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday in a personal meeting with President Barack Obama, shortly after publicly apologizing for deep problems plaguing the agency’s health care system that Obama called “totally unacceptable.”
With budget deadline still months away, should agencies start prepping for CR? The Sept. 30 deadline for Congress to deliver a complete fiscal 2015 budget plan is still about four months away. But with a lengthy summer recess spanning nearly the entire month of August, that leaves fewer than 40 working days for the appropriation committees on Capitol Hill to finalize agency spending levels. That has some budget watchers already raising the possibility of a stopgap continuing resolution to fund government operations.