U.S. House of Representatives, in first 2017 vote, takes up Costello bill
Legislation aimed at making employees of Veterans Affairs facilities across the United States more answerable for past workplace transgressions was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, the first bill passed by the new Congress.
The bill, entitled the Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act, was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th, of West Goshen, who as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee had first proposed the legislation in June 2015. It was approved unanimously by the House, and now heads to the U.S. Senate.
“The reason I introduced this legislation is simple – it allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to maintain accurate records of disciplinary actions against employees,” said Costello in a statement following the bill’s passage.. “The file can then be taken into consideration when an employee is up for a bonus or promotion. My bill is intended to bring more transparency and accountability to the way we serve our veterans.”
In an interview Wednesday, Costello said that when he began looking at operations in the VA after taking office in 2015, he was surprised to see an apparent loophole in the way VA employees were disciplined. Those who had been reprimanded by superiors for low-level infractions could see records of that discipline removed from the employee file after a certain amount of time.
“There did not seem to be a way to hold them accountable, and seemed to be a culture of protecting people,” he said. “The system was like a self-executing expungement.”
Because disciplinary actions only remain on an employee’s record for three years, poor performing employees may be considered for or receive promotions or bonuses. This legislation will bring accountability because it requires an actual, permanent log of when employees are performing poorly or other wrongdoings by the employee, Costello said.
The legislator, whose district includes northern Chester County, and parts of Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties, was sworn in Tuesday to begin serving his second full term in the House.
According to his statement, disciplinary actions at the VA facilities, including VA medical centers such as those in Coatesville, Lebanon, and Philadelphia, are carried out through a tiered system. However, the VA uses lower tiered disciplinary actions more frequently, because they are not permanently part of an employee’s file. Currently, the VA keeps disciplinary actions in an employee’s file for only three years before they are deleted, preventing poor performers within the VA from being tracked or held accountable over the long-term, Costello said.
The Accountability Act requires the VA to maintain current files of employee disciplinary actions throughout each employee’s tenure at the VA. These files would be reviewed when an employee is under consideration for a bonus, promotion, or other advancement.
“It is important the many employees at the VA doing good work are not overlooked or penalized,” Costello said. “(The bill) does not impose new penalties or affect the existing due process rights for a VA employee to appeal disciplinary action."
According to his office, Costello is optimistic that this along with several other efforts will finally reach the President’s desk for his signature, which is long overdue.