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Republican Party 2012 Platform: Make VA Regional Directors Presidential Appointees

House Veterans Affairs Committee
May 21, 2014

Republican members of Congress may not even know it, but they have already endorsed what one expert calls the answer to the problems with the VA: Make the regional directors Presidential appointees. It was written into the 2012 Republican Party platform.

Page 44 of the 2012 Republican Party Platform (emphasis added):

Honoring and Supporting Our Veterans: A Sacred Obligation America has a sacred trust with our veterans,and we are committed to providing them and their families with care and dignity. This is particularlytrue because our nation’s warriors are volunteers, who served from a sense of duty. The work of the Department of Veterans Affairs—with a staff of 300,000—is essential to meet our obligations to them: providing health, education, disability, survivor, and home loan benefit services and arranging memorial services upon death. All its branches in those various fields must be made more responsive, moving from an adversarial to an advocacy relationship with veterans. To that end we will consider a fundamental change in structure to make the regional directors of the Department presidential appointees rather than careerists.

Today the House will consider a weaker measure, HR 4031, Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014.

H.R. 4031 gives the Secretary of Veterans Affairs authority to remove an employee of the Senior Executive Service if the Secretary determines that the employee’s performance warrants removal.  The Secretary can remove the individual from federal service entirely, or transfer him to a General Schedule position within the civil service system. Within thirty days of removing the individual, the Secretary must notify the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the removal and the reason for it.  H.R. 4031 provides that the employee’s removal shall be done in the same manner as the removal of a professional staff member of a Member of Congress.

“I think this is a very positive step,” said Ric Davidge, Former National Chairman for Govt Affairs, Viet Nam Veterans of America. “but this is a systemic problem based on a number of organizational behaviors in the VA.”

“I still firmly believe that all regional directors should be Schedule C positions who serve at the pleasure of the President,” Davidge said. “This reclassification would change the culture and make the VA immediately responsive to a new or concerned administration.”

Today also, President Obama made an even weaker response, yet another nationwide investigation of the VA.

“When I hear allegations of misconduct, whether allegations of covering up wait times or cooking the books, I won’t stand for it,” Obama said during a special news briefing shortly after noon Wednesday. “Anybody found to have manipulated or falsified records has to be held accountable.”

However, he did not call for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, who will conduct a nationwide investigation of VA facilities–not just the system in Phoenix, where the allegations first surfaced. Obama said he expects preliminary results of the investigation next week.

Heads will surely roll. Or will they? From appearances, the VA is like every other bureaucracy, which tends to exist perpetuate the bureaucracy, whatever other inputs and outputs it may have.