WASHINGTON — eterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki would be granted more authority to fire or demote senior executives under a bill headed to the House floor. The measure comes as pressure builds on Capitol Hill to overhaul the beleaguered agency in response to allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths.
The VA's Office of Inspector General said late Tuesday the number of VA facilities being investigated nationwide for problems had expanded to 26. Acting Inspector General Richard Griffin told a Senate committee last week that 10 facilities were being investigated.
President Barack Obama has scheduled a meeting with Shinseki at the White House on Wednesday morning. Also present will be White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who was assigned to oversee a review of the VA health care system.
The House bill, being readied for a vote Wednesday, would target about 450 career employees at the VA who serve as hospital directors or executives in the agency's 21 regions.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, sponsored the measure, saying VA officials who have presided over mismanagement or negligence are more likely to receive bonuses or glowing performance reviews than any sort of punishment.
The VA's "widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems," including revelations that the department maintained secret waiting lists to cover up long delays in patient appointments and a mounting toll of preventable deaths of veterans, Miller said.
Miller accused the VA of a "well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for mistakes" and said Congress has an obligation to "give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things. That's what my bill would do."
Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the White House shares the goals of the House bill — to ensure accountability at the VA — but was concerned about some of the details.