Vote Explanation for S. 1094 — Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017

As a Marine veteran, I made a commitment when I was elected to Congress to continue receiving my healthcare at the VA. Reforming the VA to provide our veterans the best health care in the world should be a top priority for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Earlier this year, the House passed H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, which would give the VA Secretary increased flexibility to remove, demote, or suspend any VA employee, including Senior Executive Service employees, for poor performance or misconduct. While I agree that VA management must be empowered to hold their employees accountable, buried in this bill was a poison pill provision that would eliminate collective bargaining rights of employees and failed to maintain whistleblower protections for those who speak out against misconduct and mismanagement at VA facilities.

The VA has shown that these measures can weaken the applicant pool for jobs and discourage employees from reporting problems. During consideration of the bill, I voted in favor of an amendment offered by House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Walz that would have replaced this partisan language with bipartisan legislation first introduced by Senator Isakson (R-GA) to empower the VA Secretary to hold VA employees accountable. Unfortunately, this amendment was not adopted, resulting in my vote against H.R. 1259.

S. 1094 is the Senate-passed version of H.R. 1259, and includes bipartisan language that maintains all existing due process procedures, judicial review, and enforces protections for whistleblowers. For these reasons, I supported this bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, 368–55.