SEA Statement on Chairman Miller’s Veterans Affairs Bill
Today, the Senior Executives Association (SEA) sounded its strong opposition to a bill released by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), to ostensibly hold Senior Executives accountable for alleged mismanagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
SEA President Carol Bonosaro said, "Not only is this bill a solution in search of a problem, it is unfair and does not further the goal that we all share to ensure the highest quality care for our Nation's veterans. Further, nearly one third of the career members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) working at the VA are themselves veterans. They share a commitment to continued public service, and it is a shame that the very committee that is looking for ways to increase the presence of veterans in the federal workforce would now enable firing those at the highest career levels without any due process whatsoever."
The bill now allows an agency head - a political appointee - to fire Senior Executives with no due process and no oversight or, alternatively, to demote them to any level of the General Schedule. This is a terrible precedent that threatens to politicize the career senior leadership of the government.
The career civil service was created to ensure that it is non-partisan, free from political influence and free from the corruption that plagues many other nations. To ensure fair treatment of employees and to preserve the integrity of the civil service, protections were put in place to provide due process for federal employees and a barrier to undue political influence so that federal employees can fairly carry out the laws passed by Congress without fear of political retribution. In fact, career Senior Executives enjoy far fewer protections than other Federal employees.
The unfortunate reality of the past few years is that the rhetoric surrounding federal employees is largely driven by optics rather than the policy needs of the government and the American people. SEA is concerned that this bill would allow Senior Executives to be subjected to a trial by media that pressures political appointees to remove them. With fear of retribution by an agency head, the career SES could well become a politicized corps that bends with the political winds, rather than serving the American people free from political influence.
SEA strongly supports holding employees accountable for their performance. Should an employee need to be removed, then an agency already has the means to do so. Federal employees are routinely fired and red tape is not the problem.
SEA would also like to correct the Chairman's assertion that a GAO report found that pay is not linked to performance. The SES pay and performance management system is the largest one in the government with a system of performance metrics and oversight. A Senior Executive's rating goes through several stages of review, including final sign off from the Secretary. The GAO report in question referred to Title 38 pay for excepted positions – not SES pay. These are two entirely separate categories of employees.
Should the Chairman be interested in meaningful reforms to the SES pay and performance management system, SEA stands ready to engage in a dialogue on these issues to ensure a fair and transparent system that incentivizes the strongest performance from those employees tasked with overseeing the care of our Nation's veterans.
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.