U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to make the case for major reforms to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Rubio showcased his “VA Accountability Act” which would give the VA secretary more power to fire underperforming and incompetent employees. The bill has been blocked by Senate Democrats. U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, is backing a similar bill in the House.
Rubio said the following on the Senate floor:
I don’t think any of us in any of the 50 states have not had calls from our constituents about the Veterans Administration. I know certainly in Florida I have. We are blessed to have so many people in our state who are in uniform or who have served in uniform.
And we make two fundamental promises to the men and women that serve our country.
The first is that if we ever put them into hostilities, they will be better equipped, better trained and have more information than their adversaries. And I, of course, fear that all three of those promises are eroded.
But here’s the second promise we make them. After they take care of us and they come home, we will take care of them. And that’s a promise that sadly is also not being kept.
There are a lot of different issues we can get into when it comes to veterans and what they’re facing in this country, but one that’s received a lot of attention is the Veterans Administration and particularly its role that it plays in providing health care for those returning or those who have served our country and have been facing challenges ever since.
We’ve all had the phone calls to our office, we’ve seen the media reports about it, and I’m proud that last year we were able to pass legislation that gave the secretary of the VA the ability to fire senior executives that weren’t doing their jobs.
And this is the point in this where I always stop and remind everyone that there are really good people working at the VA. In fact, the enormous majority of people at the VA are really good people who care passionately about our veterans, and there are some phenomenal VA facilities in this country.
And then there are some facilities that aren’t working, and there are some individuals within that agency that, quite frankly, are not doing their jobs well. The problem is they can’t be held accountable because they’re protected by law. And as a result, they can’t be removed.
Now we expanded that law a year ago to include the ability to fire senior executives that weren’t doing their job, but to date, that has not really been used to much effect. So earlier this year we introduced follow-up legislation, and the follow-up legislation gives the secretary of the department the authority to remove any employee of Veterans Affairs based on performance, or lack thereof, or misconduct. It gives them the authority to remove such individuals from the civil service, or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate.
And I’m proud that this bill has gone through the process here in the Senate. It’s passed out of committee and is now ready for action. And I hope that we will take action on this. There is a different version in the House, it has also gone through their committees and is waiting for their process to move through. There are some differences between the two which of course would be worked out in a conference.
But I think the prudent thing to do at this point, given the fact that the Senate bill has worked its way through the process, and is now ready for action, is to take action. This is about creating accountability.
And, by the way, this is about taking care of our veterans, but it’s also about taking care of the people at the VA who are doing their job. This is also about them. It isn’t fair to them that people who aren’t doing their jobs continue in their positions. And in many instances, are increasing the workload on others because they’re not performing or carrying their weight.
And so that’s why, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of calendar number 272, S 1082, and further that the committee-reported amendments be agreed to, the bill as amended be read a third time and passed, and that the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
It sounds like no matter what, we’re probably going to have a delay here on acting on this matter, but I would say this for people that are watching here in the gallery or at home or anywhere they might see this later. I just want everybody to understand what we’re saying here.
All we’re saying in this bill is, ‘If you work at the VA and you aren’t doing your job, they get to fire you.’ I think people are shocked that that isn’t actually existing in the entire government, since there is really no other job in the country where if you don’t do your job, you don’t get fired. But in this instance we’re just limiting to one agency. This should actually be the rule in the entire government. If you’re not doing your job, you should be fired. But this is just limiting it to the VA because we’ve got a crisis there with the lack of accountability.
And I would hope that we can move forward in this and I’m prepared to listen to anyone and want to improve this. We went through the normal course and process in the Senate, it went through the Committee, it had hearings, opportunities for amendment were offered at the time, and so if there’s a good-faith effort, and I believe that there is, then let’s improve this and take action on it. Because we need to have a VA that’s more interested in the welfare and security of our veterans than in the job security of federal employees.
And I said it at the outset. There are really good people at the VA. The vast majority of the employees at the VA are doing their jobs and doing them well. They care about these veterans. It isn’t fair to them that there are people on the payroll there taking up seats, taking up slots, taking up money and taking up time that aren’t doing their jobs and they literally cannot be fired. They literally cannot be removed. It is a near impossibility, the process is so expensive, so long, so troublesome, so complicated that, in essence, they cannot be removed.
And so unfortunately we won’t be able to move forward on this today, it appears, but I hope that in quick succession we’ll be able to come together and get this done to provide a higher level of accountability that is so necessary in every agency of government but none more so than the Veteran Affairs. With that, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. He is currently running for the Republican presidential nomination.