SEA Statement on House Veterans Affairs Committee Hearing: "Not the American Way"

SEA released a statement on November 13 regarding the House Veterans Affairs Commitee hearing earlier in the day that called for the firing of career Senior Executives.

Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held yet another hearing on problems confronting the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The problems highlighted over the past several months deserve serious consideration, as does the hard work being undertaken at the Department to address the problems. Unfortunately, the Committee continues to focus on the firing of Senior Executives and makes a spectacle of employee accountability. Regrettably, the scene brings to mind a kangaroo court.

Much of the hearing focused on calling for the firing of career Senior Executives. Making a few heads roll does not provide the resources necessary to enable veterans to obtain medical appointments within a two week period. Rather, It creates an atmosphere of guilty until proven innocent, encourages disrespect of civil servants, fails to acknowledge the fine treatment provided veterans at the vast majority of VA facilities, and does not engender a culture where the best and brightest want to work.

It is also deeply troubling that the Committee's latest solution appears to be taking away the fairly earned pensions of career Senior Executives without any finding of guilt. This is a punitive measure that does not address problems at the Department and, as with the at-will proposals, it is optically driven. All federal employees, including Members of Congress, keep their pensions into retirement, regardless of what prompted their retirement. Given the deep respect that Congress has for the Constitution, it is surprising that at least some Members seem willing to turn their backs on due process.

"At the hearing, several Members called explicitly for career Senior Executives to be fired, even identifying some of them by name. If this isn't political interference in the career civil service, then I don't know what is," stated Carol Bonosaro, SEA's president.

"Congress' role is not to play judge and jury – that is a role for the courts or, in the case of federal employees, the Merit System Protection Board. All Americans, even career federal executives, deserve fair, impartial treatment, and to be deemed innocent until proven guilty. This is the American way,one of the values for which our veterans fought.

Since 1999, the Government Accountability Office and the VA Inspector General have sounded the alarm about waitlists, as well as the problems that underpin them – lack of staff, lack of funding, lack of training and an outdated IT system. It is always easier to point fingers and assign blame than to take responsibility and fix the problems.

SEA has said repeatedly that veterans deserve world-class care and that employees should be held accountable when they are guilty of unsatisfactory performance or of misconduct. But that should be true of political appointees, as well, and, in this case, Congress itself certainly bears some responsibility. Our veterans deserve more than headline grabbing," continued Bonosaro.

The Senior Executives Association (SEA) is a professional association representing Senior Executive Service members and other career federal executives. Founded in 1980, SEA's goals are: to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity of the federal government; to advance the professionalism and advocate the interests of career federal executives; and to enhance public recognition of their contributions. The SEA Professional Development League (PDL) is a nonprofit educational organization committed to advancing the professionalism of career federal executives through the sponsorship of training, recognition, and research activities.