Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Wednesday that while he wants to hold poorly performing employees accountable, that doesn’t necessarily mean these employees will be fired or disciplined.
Instead, he indicated that the VA is willing to help work with and even train those employees.
“It doesn’t automatically result in firing or some kind of disciplinary action,” McDonald said, according to the San Jose Mercury News. “The way we improve performance is through feedback, training. But in the end, if the person doesn’t perform, then we have to help them realize that there’s a better fit somewhere else. And we’ve done that.”
His comments are the latest sign that McDonald is not going to use his new authority to fire VA officials as much as some members of Congress would like. Congress approved legislation a few weeks ago to allow for the quick firing or demotion of VA officials involved in the health care scandal.
Earlier this week, the Merit Systems Protection Board published a rule implementing guidelines for how it will judge these decisions, and said it believes the expedited firing process violates the Constitution. That has the potential to invite legal challenges to the new process.
McDonald made his latest comments during a Wednesday visit to the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, which he said is one of the “crown jewels” of the VA system.
But according to Palo Alto Online, a report was released saying one employee at Palo Alto was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on errors related to the delivery of medicine to veterans.
McDonald was asked about that case Wednesday, and said, “There are no bad whistleblowers. I encourage every employee to speak up and tell us how to improve, to criticize us.”
Still, one of the more obvious ways to improve service at the VA — firing corrupt officials — has yet to be embraced. On Wednesday, a veterans group launched a clock showing how long Sharon Helman has been on paid leave from her job as the head of the Phoenix VA. Helman is believed to have supervised the manipulation of veterans’ health care wait time data in Phoenix.
As of Thursday, Helman has been receiving her $170,000 per year salary for 112 days while on leave.