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Sanders to Introduce New VA Accountability Bill

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee appears to be rejecting a House-passed bill that would grant authority to the VA secretary to fire a variety of senior officials.  

Instead, Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is working to develop a new piece of VA accountability bill in consultation with the White House, his office said in a statement Friday. The bill would include "expedited due-process protections" for covered VA employees, Sanders' office said.  

"In recent years, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1.5 million more veterans have entered the VA health care system," Sanders said in a statement. "Congress must do everything possible to make certain that the VA has the financial resources and administrative accountability to provide the high-quality health care and timely access to care that our veterans earned and deserve."  

The House passed a bill Wednesday with 390 "yes" votes without the kind of civil service protections envisioned by Sanders' proposal. When the Senate Appropriations Committee moved Thursday to attach House-backed firing authority language to the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill, Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., expressed concern about the effect on the VA's ability to attract the best employees.  

Sanders objected to a request Thursday by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to call up and pass the House bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would move quickly on the firing authority issue , however.  

Sanders' office summarized the new bill in a release Friday afternoon:

The new accountability measure that Sanders will introduce would grant VA secretaries the power to remove senior executives because of poor job performance. Under current law, officials in what the federal government calls the Senior Executive Service may be dismissed or demoted, with rare exception, only for misconduct. Sanders' legislation also would maintain the VA’s ability to be competitive in recruiting and retaining top-notch leaders and managers by ensuring expedited due-process protections for senior executives facing removal or demotion for poor performance. Unlike a bill that the House passed on Thursday, the Sanders measure would avoid politicization of the VA by preventing any new administration from discharging hundreds of high-level civil servants without due process for political reasons.
Sanders also announced plans to reintroduce a version of broader veteran's health legislation that failed to garner the votes needed overcome a GOP filibuster on the Senate floor.