Martha Roby: Breaking the bureaucracy

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This week the U.S. House passed H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act, to empower the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the legal authority to swiftly remove problem employees at all levels.

You may recall that Congress passed a bill last year similarly empowering the Secretary to remove bad actors, but that legislation only authorized him to fire senior officials. Under this law, the former Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) director became the first official terminated, but as I said at the time, blame for all of the misconduct and mismanagement did not rest with one person alone.

This bill is important in solving some of the broader problems the VA has had with accountability nationwide. However, more acute problems still exist at particularly troubled VA facilities that I believe require more specific action.

While the director in Central Alabama was rightly removed this past August, the system has continued to struggle. Recently, VA medical centers in Montgomery and Tuskegee were identified as worst and second worst, respectively, in the nation for delays in patient appointment completions. Communication and coordination between various levels of management are still badly out of sync at a time when we can least afford it. And, VA leadership continues to point to the various layers of bureaucracy for why problems persist.

That’s why this week I introduced legislation that would break through the bureaucracy and require top VA leaders to come in and take over failing systems, like Central Alabama. My bill, H.R. 3234, the Failing VA Medical Center Recovery Act, compels top VA leadership to send a “rapid response team” to take over our worst facilities and turn them around.

This is the anti-bureaucracy. This is the team no complacent VA employee wants to see coming because they know the status quo is about to get shaken up. Much like the threat of a “takeover” of a failing school by the state superintendent, this puts VA medical centers on notice that we will no longer tolerate their incompetence on behalf of our veterans.

Under my bill, determination of a failing facility would be based strictly on data — not media coverage or the opinion of the Secretary. And, the takeover trigger would be automatic, not optional or based on the whims of Washington.

The House was right to empower the VA Secretary with the authority to enforce greater accountability. Now, we need to require him to use it to intervene at our worst performing facilities. That’s what the Failing VA Medical Center Recovery Act does, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this legislation in the coming weeks and months.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She is in her third term.

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