In early March, the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System,
Sharon Helman, pled guilty to filing a false financial disclosure after
she was fired in 2014 for manipulating data to cover up long wait times
among other misconduct.
An administrative judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)
upheld the removal based on the charge of failing to report gifts from
lobbyists. This case has brought to public attention the issue of SES
members who are classified under Title V – but the proposed solution
may cause bigger problems.
Is Title 38 Really A Better Solution?
Title 38, created just after World War II, permitted the VA to pay doctors,
dentists, and others who engage in patient care more than the general
schedule to make employment at the VA attractive, but also established
a peer review process for covered employees accused of misconduct instead
of affording them MSPB appeal rights. Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans
Affairs, is seeking to convert the VA’s Title V senior executives
to Title 38 despite that they do not engage in patient care. Rather than
appealing adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, they
would instead appeal through an internal process yet to be identified
by the Secretary.
Our own Debra D’Agostino commented on the matter for Federal News
Radio, as she believes this change is misdirected and would not solve
any of the VA’s headaches. Title 38’s existing peer review
process is a poor fit for those involved in the management of operations
and finances, and there is no basis for depriving members of the SES of
their due process rights.
Furthermore, the removal of certain civil service protections would dramatically
disincentive others from working for the VA. While proposed changes would
increase the salary of VA SES members, Attorney D’Agostino says
this is hardly a motivating factor, as the pay would still be a fraction
compared to private sector administrators. The VA has plenty of issues
to deal with, and the conversion to Title 38 could create even more.
Read more of Attorney D'Agostino's commentary at
Federal News Radio.
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