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Constitutionality of VA Reform Bill Questioned

Last week in the Senate, S. 627 advanced with an extension of power to a broader reach. The original text, which gave the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the authority to revoke bonuses paid to employees identified as having manipulated the electronic wait lists by eliminating one or more names, has now expanded.

But there may be a hitch. In his May testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, David R. McLenachen, a VA acting deputy undersecretary, cited there may be a constitutional conflict with this legislation: “S. 627 is a bill for which there is no precedent. No federal agencies have the authority to require employees to repay past monetary performance awards or bonuses that were given in accordance with law and without conditions or contractual obligations. This legislation threatens a number of core constitutional rights related to property and due process that the Framers of the Constitution sought to protect.”

In a statement released this week from Senator Mike Rounds, who sits on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, he applauded the committee for moving forward with this bill and several other pieces of legislation, including  S.1082: The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act of 2015. This is an expansion of the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which gave the VA Secretary firing authority over senior executives accused of misconduct and allowed for a limited appeals process. This new legislation would extend to any employee within the department accused of delinquency.

Additionally, Chairman Johnny Iasakson praised both pieces of legislation on the Senate floor. ““I'm so proud of the Ayotte-Cassidy bill and the Rubio-Johnson bill which say to the American people we're going to have accountability.”

This week the House will vote on the companion bill to S. 1082. H.R. 1994 also authorizes the VA Secretary to remove or demote a VA employee based on alleged poor performance or misconduct, but also includes provisions to extend the probationary period to 18-months and calls for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of the amount of time spent by VA employees carrying out labor organizing activities and the amount of Department space used for such activities – among other provisions.

Both Senate bills will now be reported to the full Senate.

Posted in From the Hill

Tags: Congress, Senate, legislation,

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