KE Cellars

That our vets not have suffered in vain.

veterans affairs plaque 02

To the extent that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki relies on his $199,700 per year salary as a cabinet secretary for his living expenses, he might want to consider cutting back.

That’s because as it pertains to being the head guy at the VA, Eric Shinseki is toast.

A growing chorus, consisting of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, is calling for Shinseki’s head. Sooner rather than later, President Obama will either fire Shinseki or Shinseki will step down.

Shinseki’s departure will provide President Obama the tiniest fig leaf of political cover. But that’s all it will accomplish. Otherwise, it is likely that nothing will change as a result of sacking Shinseki.

But it need not be so.

Tragic as the VA scandal has been for the veterans and their families who have suffered and in many cases died from the department’s bureaucratic intransigence, the episode is perhaps useful anyway. The VA scandal has revealed in stark detail the fact that the executive branch of government, led by the president, is almost powerless to control its own employees. We may want to hold President Obama accountable for malfeasant employees at VA hospitals. But the fact is, he has little practical authority over them.

Obama can fire Eric Shinseki at any time and for any reason. But that is not the case when it comes to most of the 314,000 civilian employees who nominally work for Shinseki.

Thank the Civil Service System, which was created in 1871 with the very good intention of preventing presidents from filling government jobs with political cronies. Because of rules put in place to avoid politicizing the daily operation of government, civil service employees must undergo a laborious process to get hired. But once on the payroll, the process for firing them is positively Byzantine.

The U.S. government is the country’s largest single employer and President Obama is nominally the “boss” of 1.8 million civilian employees. Yet in most cases, he has little authority to get rid of the slackers.

From that impotence we get the sclerotic, lumbering incompetence of very nearly every department and agency of the federal government.

We can fix this and the fix is magnificently simple.

Leave in place the civil service mechanisms for hiring federal workers based on testing, qualification and merit (rather than political connection). But give the president – and by extension the department heads under him – the authority to fire federal workers at their sole discretion and with little appeal.

Instantly, the president would become personally accountable for failures in government such as the VA scandal. Instantly, he would become personally accountable for the thousands of bureaucratic government drones who consume billions of dollars while doing nothing useful. Being personally responsible for the actions of so many employees, the president would have a real incentive to keep their numbers low.

It’s completely non-partisan. Presidents, who regardless of stripe always want power, would actually have some. But that power would come with direct accountability for the quality of what We the People get from our federal government.

Make this change to government, and the suffering of our veterans at the hands of the VA will not have been in vain.


  1. Linda E. Montrose says:

    It is six of one and half a dozen of another with obama. He can fire shinseki or he can step down as you said, but it makes not one whit of difference because obama will just find another spot for him off the radar as some czar for something. obama has gotten away with far too much to ever be held accountable for anything he has done. obama has contempt for the military just as clinton did and knows that a weakened military is a vunerable one. Both have done their part in weakening our defense. obama’s contempt has shown clearly in who he appointed and who will be appointed in the future. Even if this shinseki steps down, someone else of his caliber will take his place, only more careful in not raising the ire of veterans and their families, but carrying out the obama agenda.

  2. I have honestly never heard a vet who feels resentment for any way he is treated by the VA.

    They are ,for the most part, so patient, long suffering , loyal & service proud that they are a pleasure to talk to .

    They are angry for the way they get treated by this admin. & also when they remember that Clinton balanced the budget by cutting their money( papers didn’t make too much out of it).

    But not the VA.
    I hope things get fixed for them.

  3. R. Eagleman says:

    I am angry and ashamed about the dysfunction of the Veterans Administration. The anger is based on the attitude of our president and others who are directly responsible for this criminal maltreatment of our veterans. The shame is due to my own cowardice in not reporting the activities of the hospital staff toward the patients who depended on them for their health care and their very lives. During a residency at one of the VA hospitals, I witnessed first hand how these vets were treated, but I was too concerned with my own future to jeopardize it by blowing the whistle. I was not in a position to know about any secret waiting lists or other methods for covering their behinds, but the arrogance of staff in management of the patients was disgraceful; they would not last 5 minutes in a private hospital. It would take too much space to enumerate all of the acts that dishonored our veterans, but in a nutshell, they were treated as if they were being provided health care as charity, and that they should be eternally grateful for whatever treatment that they received. There is absolutely no way to reform a system that is controlled by the civil service and unions; it must be converted to a free market/competition system that allows for the rapid removal of such incompetent employees. Gen. Shinseki may have been a great military leader, but the fact that he was a strong supporter of President Obama does not qualify him for this position. These types of hiring and firing policies are a major part of the problem that infects our government from top to bottom. Again, affirmative action does not work any better in the oval office than it does in the post office.

Leave a Reply