REPOST FROM APRIL 26, 2014

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: A GLIMMER OF HOPE?

OPINION:

VETERAN

Representative Jeff Miller’s [1] bill, H.R. 4031, Department of Veterans’ Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014: [2] Does it go far enough fast enough?

It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs has serious problems. A crisis created throughout its hierarchy; a problem that creates delays in service resulting in needless anxiety, frustration, and frequently, death. [3]

The bill, ‘‘Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014,” will allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to remove members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) for performance.

Why not hold all management to the same accountability standard as the SES? Senior bureaucrats have stripped away any incentive for personal accountability and diminished responsibility throughout the organization. Those on the front lines of customer service should be as accountable as the seniors. It will do no good if senior management does not have the ability to dismiss unproductive or incompetent employees for performance shortfalls.

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Civil service supervisors are unaware of the image their operation projects to the public. They no longer view their area of responsibility from the customer’s viewpoint, but instead, are busy responding to the whims of their supervisors and the occasional out of control grievance. Leadership is unaware of what happens on the front lines — under staffing, long lines, distracted, unresponsive, rude, and condescending employees. Employees are more focused on the timing of their next bathroom break or their cell phone vibrating than the client standing front of them. Supervisors have become too busy with a backlog of other priorities. Priorities designed to present ambiguous numbers and false positives. Priorities totally disconnected from the chaos that continues up-front, unabated. Priorities mandated by civil servants that are even more detached from the public’s perception of their operation.

H.R. 4031 makes no attempt to untie the hands of SES. SES is at the mercy of the lower chain of command with neither the ability nor the desire to make appropriate changes when necessary. There is little incentive to expend the energy or the resources to even meet, much less to exceed the veterans’ expectation. To change and insist on accountability throughout the Veterans Administration would require a fundamental transformation in the workforce and personnel practices. That is not likely to happen. The desirability of government employment would diminish. One of the well known perks of a government job is job security.

H.R. 4031is a step in the right direction and deserves support, but does little to untangle the mess created by mismanagement and poor planning that has plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs. H.R. 4031 will not be the silver bullet. Continued pressure on our representatives is imperative. The motivation of the department to self-govern has proven that they are more concerned about furthering their own interests rather than those of the veterans. Carefully concealing and shrugging off incompetence ensures a backlog of work and strengthens the employees’ grip on job security. Government can no longer protect the incompetent and unproductive civil servant. … Regardless of their position in the hierarchy.

“Despite the fact that multiple VA Inspector General reports have linked many VA patient care problems to widespread mismanagement within VA facilities, and GAO findings that VA bonus pay has no clear link to performance, the Department has consistently defended its celebration of senior executives who presided over these events, all the while giving them glowing performance reviews and cash bonuses of up to $63,000.00” [4]

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