FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, file photo, an American flag flies over Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are trying again – this time with support from the Department of Veterans Affairs – to give the VA secretary more power to fire, demote or suspend poor-performing employees and recoup their bonuses.

Complementary bills were introduced in the House and Senate this week to give VA Secretary David Shulkin those authorities. The legislation would also shorten the timeline VA employees have to appeal any disciplinary action against them and require quicker determinations from the Merit Systems Protection Board, which hears the appeals.

“[T]here are still too many bad apples within the department. Our veterans deserve better, and the VA employees who fulfill their duties deserve better,” Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said in a written statement. “I’m proud to have worked with President [Donald] Trump and his administration on this legislation to bring long overdue accountability to the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Tuesday released text of the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, sponsored by Roe. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the companion bill Thursday.

Last year, there was outcry from the veteran’s community when the Merit Systems Protection Board reversed the VA’s attempt to fire two executives who were found to have manipulated the hiring system to move to positions of lesser responsibility while maintaining the same salary. Lawmakers and veteran’s organizations, along with Shulkin and Trump, have pushed for increased accountability as a way to root out a perceived culture of corruption in the department.

Congressional aides told Stars and Stripes that they worked with Shulkin and VA’s general counsel to create the legislation, and they’re anticipating support from White House officials.

Trump’s 10-point plan for VA reform released during his campaign included asking Congress to pass legislation giving the VA secretary more disciplinary authority. In presentations to veterans organizations this week, Shulkin listed accountability as his top priority.

“If there is evidence that an employee has broken the law, caused harm to veterans, or have violated the public trust, they should be terminated immediately,” Shulkin wrote in an opinion piece posted Wednesday on Fox News’ website. “Instead, due to overly cumbersome and lengthy arbitrations as well as extensive bureaucratic red tape, VA has not been able to remove employees as quickly as we would have liked.”

Aides said the new legislation is a tempered version of the original and includes more time to appeal for employees facing disciplinary action.

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