The Veterans Affairs Department, Congress and Government Accountability Office all agree: an outdated and inflexible hiring process and serious shortcomings with the department’s human resources functions are prohibiting the agency from quickly filling at least 45,000 open health care positions.
A new bill that would limit how much time doctors, nurses and other employees at the Veterans Affairs Department could spend on union business has support now from VA itself. The department said having its employees spend 100 percent of their hours on official time is “necessary, reasonable and in the public’s best interest.”
Veterans groups are calling for an 8.3 percent increase in medical funding for the Veterans Health Administration and a 10 percent overall increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs next year. Carlos Fuentes, legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin to provide details on ‘independent budget’ recommendations and others.
Employees who handle veterans benefits claims and the disability claims backlog, as well as some cybersecurity professionals, are among the Veterans Affairs Department’s additional hiring freeze exemptions. VA Secretary David Shulkin announced more exemptions in a March 13 memo to staff.
The Veterans Choice Act provides VA with the opportunity to redefine what its role will be in 10 years.
The Government Accountability Office is questioning whether the right people, skills and leadership were devoted to the Veterans Affairs Department’s past efforts to remove VA healthcare from the High-Risk List. But current VA leadership insisted it’s paying attention and asked for patience as it continues to transform the department.
Official time has been a hot topic for House lawmakers this week. A new bill would limit official time for all employees at the Veterans Affairs Department and would set special limits for doctors and other workers involved in direct patient care.
If the 114th Congress was about dissecting the Veterans Affairs Department’s challenges, then the 115th Congress will act quickly to solve them, leadership on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said.
Some advocates of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s new employee accountability bill say it’s different enough from previous attempts to tackle this issue and should assuage past concerns. But others fear the legislation revives familiar worries.
An extension and then redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, along with new employee accountability legislation, are top priorities for new Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. He said he’s working with Congress on new legislation to support those initiatives.
Last year, after a long gap, the Veterans Affairs Department got a permanent inspector general. Federal Drive with Tom Temin interviews the VA’s new IG, Michael Missal, about the Veterans Choice Act and how the department responded when Congress updated it.
Both the Government Accountability Office and the department’s inspector general say leadership at the Veterans Affairs Department is committed to removing VA health care from GAO’s High-Risk List. But they’ve seen little concrete action beyond VA’s promises of commitment.
The Veterans Benefits Administration sees progress with the National Work Queue, the automatic workload system that assigns a veteran’s claim to the regional office that has the most capacity to immediately begin work. But Congress is concerned the NW Queue creates unnecessary confusion and can’t address the growing backlog of veterans claims.
A recent Government Accountability Office report on the Veterans Affairs Department and its employees’ use of official time is renewing a debate among lawmakers: Does official time have a place within agency operations, and how much time is too much?
On the personnel front, the Trump administration had an up-and-down week. The departure of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the withdrawal of Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder set Washington abuzz. But the Senate confirmed Michael Mulvaney as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Steve Mnuchin as Treasury secretary, and Dr. David Shulkin as VA secretary.