- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The House voted Wednesday to prod Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to begin firing or demoting senior-level executives within his department who were responsible for long wait lists and poor medical care.

Hours after President Obama pleaded for time to work out the problems at the department, the 390-33 vote signaled Congress feels Mr. Shinseki isn’t moving fast enough to hold VA employees accountable. The new bill would give him explicit powers to go after poor-performing managers — a prod, lawmakers said, to get heads to roll.

“He may have the tools, but he won’t use the tools he has at his disposal,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.

The VA has been reeling in recent weeks after a report that dozens of veterans died while awaiting treatment at a Phoenix facility, and that the facility doctored its books to hide the unacceptable wait times for treatment.

But Mr. Miller said the reports of poor care go back well before that, including veterans who died waiting for colonoscopies. Those cases were first reported by CNN in January.

Mr. Miller said at the House votes to prod VA to fire officials responsible for wait times, he demanded Mr. Shinseki discipline the managers involved in those waits, but still hasn’t gotten a response from the department.

The vote put some Democrats in a tough spot.

Many were eager to sign on to some action, but were reluctant to be seen joining the GOP in an attack on President Obama, and said they would have preferred to have other options in the bill.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, opposed the bill, saying it interfered with carefully structured workplace rules that put career employees outside the influence of political appointees.

“If the allegations are true, heads ought to roll. Period,” the Maryland lawmaker said. “But that’s not what this legislation is about. This legislation is about a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation painted with a very broad, broad brush.”