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Simple is easier than complex

The Veterans Affairs hospital scheduling scandal has led to political ramifications that continue to move through Congress. Last year, in an effort to look like they were doing something about the crisis, Congress enacted legislation that allowed for the quick firing of senior executives within the VA.

This law virtually eliminated the due process rights of those executives, including leaving the Merit Systems Protection Board, the agency that is supposed to review these types of adverse actions against federal employees, with almost no time to review what could be very complex appeals.

Federal employees have their own workers' comp program

For any worker, the prospect of being injured on the job is unpleasant. Aside from the obvious issues of pain and long-term discomfort from the injury, there is the unhappy prospect of being out of work for however long it takes to recover. And that means lowered income because of lost time, in addition to increased expenses related to your medical care and recovery.

In most states, there are state-run workers' compensation insurance programs that provide help to injured workers. Texas does not require private employers to provide workers' compensation insurance, but injured federal employees in Texas are covered by the federal program.

Should the OPM director resign?

The fallout from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data hack continues, as a contentious congressional hearing led to calls for the resignation of the OPM's leader. Members of a house committee attacked the OPM chief, claiming she is responsible for the data security failures that appear to have led to the hacking of OPM systems by what are presumed to be Chinese hackers.

But perhaps we need to step back and consider if this is a meaningful response. Certainly, as head of the agency, the director is ultimately responsible for incidents that occur during her tenure as boss. However, as with most issues related to the operation of the government, the truth may be far more complex and for Congress, uncomfortable.

Federal employees' personal information hacked

The report of the hacking purportedly by the Chinese of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is troubling for all federal employees. Potentially having your personal information stolen, is disconcerting enough no matter the source of the hacking, but the concerted attack on federal employee data is more worrying.

The most recent incident was the second major reported hacking of this data. Reports from last year suggest that Chinese hacking attempts are made on a constant basis, but the 2014 attack on employees who had applied for top-secret security clearance was one of the first that had succeeded.

Due process is important for all federal workers

There has been much discussion on the topic of the firing of federal employees. Some still try to sell the old line that "you can't fire a federal employee." This is, to put it bluntly, hogwash. As the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) notes in a recent report to the President and Congress, tens of thousands of federal employees have been fired over the last 10 years.

In spite of the outrage over the Veterans' affairs hospitals and manipulation of scheduling treatment for veterans, the reality is any agency could fire any employee who violated the law or internal agency rules, or whose conduct fell far below the required standards. 

What are they thinking?

The Senate has passed a budget. For federal employees the subtext of that passage may be this; however bad you thought it has been, if this were enacted, it would get much worse. The budget would cut $496 billion civilian agencies over the next ten years. The Defense Department received a $187 billion increase during that same period.

With the majority of the costs of the federal government being personnel, if put into place, this budget would necessitate significant cuts to the workforce of many if not all federal agencies. For those that are not related to homeland security or the justice system, the cuts could be even more severe, as there is a race to the bottom in going after programs that are defined as "nonessential"

Changes still in progress at the VA health system

The Veterans' Affairs Department has been rocked by the hospital scheduling scandal and other issues connected to providing health care to the nation's veterans. Clearly, the manipulation of the scheduling of veteran's medical appointments was dangerous for the veterans and an unacceptable method management.

Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has reacted with a flurry of new laws and bills, all intended to force change and punish wrongdoing. All of that is fine in the abstract, but more difficult in the particular. Because it is likely, at the core of the issue, it is Congresses fault that the scandal developed in the first place.

What is due process?

And why is it important? Due process is shorthand for all of the procedural requirements that occur in litigation. You expect that when you are accused of "wrongdoing," that you will have an opportunity to defend yourself. Within the federal employment system, due process is relatively elaborate, and while politicians whine when expedient about the difficulty in firing federal workers, there are thousands of terminations that occur every year to federal workers.

It in only in juxtaposition to the virtually nonexistent due process rights of most American workers that the federal employee's due process rights appear extravagant. Most workers in the U.S. are considered "at will," meaning an employer may fire them at any time for any reason, as long as it is not an illegal, discriminatory reason. 

Who really believes this to be a good idea?

Politicians, especially those who know they have no chance of winning their party's nomination, may say things and make proposals that are unlikely to become real. In today's news, a former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, announced a bid for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

One proposal was truly notable. The NY Times reports she feels the "federal work force is too large and says she would cut the pay of federal workers and base their compensation on performance." Really? The statement is remarkable in many ways. 

Does an old proverb describe the VA?

There is an old saying that, "A fish rots from the head down." It is often used against politicians and governments, but it applies to any organization with "leadership." It implies that when things go wrong, it is not the low-level employees who cause the problem, but the executives in charge.

After all, executives' role is to see that a job, whatever it a may be, is executed. When the job is done poorly or not at all, a significant part of the blame lies with those empowered with organizing and implementing the operation necessary to complete a job. The Veterans' Affairs scheduling scandal has highlighted the deficiencies with the VA's management of aspects of their programs.

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