Disciplining management is always problematic. Senior managers may manipulate structures they oversee to insulate themselves from direct allegation of misconduct or wrongdoing. The VA has been perceived to be particularly poor in punishing misconduct among its senior management, which is in part why Congress enacted the draconian new dismissal procedure in the wake of the Phoenix VA hospital scheduling scandal.
This new law could allow very rapid terminations of senior managers, and shortens their appeal rights, but given the newness of the law, it is possible it may be challenged at some point as a violation of their due process rights.
Congress has questioned why some of the Phoenix VA managers are still on the payroll and the VA first explained that the Department of Justice was conducting a criminal investigation. This led the chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to obtain clearance from the DOJ to fire them while the criminal investigation was still underway.
The VA now explains that they must follow the due process procedure that is in place before terminating any of the managers. This is true, and proper procedure should ensure a fair hearing before anyone loses their job, but it is also true that the investigation should be impartial and not be used to protect individuals when misconduct has occurred.
The naming of a former executive secretary to the terminated director of the hospital seems questionable, especially in light of the VA’s own Administrative Investigation Board handbook.
The handbook notes that the investigation should not rely on support staff from the facility being investigated, except “when appropriate.” Because the allegations related to the delay implicated the former director in addition to the individuals currently under investigation, it is troubling that someone so close to that office would have been assigned to the current investigation.
Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the VA Office of Inspector General has commented on where any of the investigations stand, and the VA is not commenting on the disciplinary proceedings. Employees and veterans must wonder if the “truth” of what went on at the Phoenix VA hospital will ever be fully disclosed.
Azcentral.com, “Snafu forces VA to reset probe of top Phoenix managers,” Dennis Wagner, The Republic, February 15, 2015