VA office to focus on accountability

CNN Jake Tapper Interviews VA Secretary Shulkin 4/25/17 VIDEO

CNN Jake Tapper Interviews VA Secretary Shulkin 4/25/17 VIDEO

As Congress works on legislation to make it easier to fire bad U.S. Veterans Affairs Department employees, President Donald Trump is using an executive order to create an accountability office.

"We want VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin to have the authority to manage his people in a manner expected of all senior executives, public or private", VFW Executive Director Brian Duffy wrote in an op-ed for T&P on April 26. VA Secretary David Shulkin said the office will help identify "barriers" that make it hard for the department to fire or reassign bad employees.

The office is a byproduct of a 2014 scandal in which as many as 40 veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the VA medical center in Phoenix. It will create a new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection in the department.

The office is similar to one proposed by Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, who leads the Senate VA Committee, in bipartisan legislation a year ago.

The order, which Trump signed just ahead of his first 100 days in office, creates a wide-reaching office that can weed out poorly performing employees and protect whistleblowers. "This is going to be substantial", he said.

Noting that the White House had ordered all departments to be leaner and "more accountable", the VA indicated that more than 4,000 jobs would still be left vacant unless they were specially approved "position by position" by top VA leadership as addressing an "absolute critical need". Lucas said the office was a "positive first step" but not enough to fix the culture at the VA.

The move follows Trump's signing last week of a bill that extends a VA program that allowed some veterans to seek medical care outside of the department's troubled health system.

Most of the major veterans organizations have endorsed the effort, according to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

In death dive, Cassini snaps Earth within Saturn's rings
The spacecraft will make similar manoeuvres during its subsequent dives, the next of which is scheduled for Tuesday. He said Cassini had "shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape".

The Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection will "identify any barriers that might exist to removing bad employees from the VA".

Veterans' organizations agree that legislation is needed, and are pressing the Senate to act.

"We've rolled out a new predictive tool called "Reach Vet" where we're actually proactively reaching out to those veterans at highest risk of suicide", he said.

"It seems to a reversal of what they have been saying, and it's disappointing", said Garry Augustine, executive director of Disabled American Veterans' Washington headquarters.

The new office will also investigate reports of retaliation against VA employees who expose illegal or unethical conduct, Shulkin said.

No new hiring will be done for the office. It also has been ordered to stand up a central whistleblower office.

Tom Lutey, of The Billings Gazette, contributed reporting.

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