Bill Valdez

Message from Your SEA President

S.1094, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, is a clarion call to all career senior executives about the need to stand up and have your voice heard.

SEA this week launched the “State of Federal Leadership Survey” (SFLS), which is your opportunity to let Congress, the Administration and the public know just how valuable career senior leaders are and why legislation like S.1094 is such a terrible idea. To be clear, SEA does not oppose S.1094 because we want to protect under-performing SES.  We oppose it because we want to protect high performing SES.

We believe it is time to paint a true picture of Federal government leadership practices and challenges. SEA will use the results of the SFLS to inform our legislative and policy agenda to strengthen Federal government leadership practices, create a next generation leadership pipeline, and fight horrific pieces of legislation like S.1094.

But we will only gain these insights if you participate in the SFLS. Please take 10 minutes out of your busy schedule to complete the survey. You can access it at: State of Federal Leadership Survey.

Every career senior executive should be paying attention to S.1094 as proof of the failure by Congress to understand Federal government leadership practices and the damage that can be done by a single piece of execrable legislation.

Just because you are not a VA executive don’t think this legislation won’t impact you. It is being viewed by many in Congress as a “test case” and, if successful, they will export it to other agencies.  

S.1094 is the “smoking gun” that demonstrates how poorly the role of career senior executives is understood by Congress. It proposes the quick removal of career SES based on the highly publicized (and perceived) failures of a handful of career executives. This legislation is a complete misunderstanding of the root causes of the VA challenges, which can fairly be said to be a failure of leadership, but they are a failure of political leadership and not career leadership.

Multiple studies have categorized the challenges at VA: a failure to recruit and retain a talented workforce (there are 45,000 vacancies at VA), budget shortfalls, and an operating environment that favored efficiency (reduced wait times) over premium health care.  

And who was responsible for these three failures? Political leaders, not career leaders.

Vacancies are caused by low morale and an inability to recruit talent to what many healthcare workers believe is a hostile working environment. The constant attacks on VA’s workforce by Congress only further poisons the well.

Budget shortfalls can be laid squarely at the feet of Congress. This is an epic failure that has nothing to do with career executives. Congress has failed to pass a budget on time for years and the destructive cycle of Continuing Resolutions has eroded the ability of agencies such as VA to make critical investments in infrastructure, people and programs

And the operating environment that favored decreasing wait times over health care delivery? That was an aborted attempt by Obama Administration politicals to develop metrics for budget purposes. The end result was what every management guru says it would be: organizations focus on what is measured as success by their political leaders. If they say they want shorter wait times, we’ll do that.

There was enormous pressure on career civil servants to deliver on this metric by VA political leadership, and given the budget and workforce shortfalls they were experiencing, the result was predictable.  Instead of valuing premium health care, political leaders said they valued shorter wait times, so that was what was delivered by career employees.

Paul Light, an NYU professor who studied 41 failures of government since 2002, came up with an insightful analysis of those failures. Most were the result of poor policy choices by senior government leaders. And, who were those senior government leaders making those poor policy decisions? It was the political leaders because they are in charge of the policy decisions of any Administration.

Blaming career leaders for the failures of political leaders is a fun game, particularly if you are a political leader, but the reality is that career leaders are frequently made a scapegoat for the failures of the political class. That is a distorted view of reality that SEA is determined to change through your participation in the “State of Federal Leadership Survey.”

 

 

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Tags: Message from Your SEA President, Bill Valdez, legislation, veterans affairs

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