In June 2017, President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill that makes it easier to terminate workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—by rolling back protections afforded to civil service jobs throughout the federal government.
As soon as the law was in effect, firings increased by 60 percent during the second half of 2017 compared to the first. Under the accountability law, thousands of VA employees—mostly low-level staffers and several senior leaders—lost their jobs.
However, the firing spree came to a halt after a recent court decision in favor of 50-year-old Brian Hawkins, a former director of the Washington D.C. VA hospital. After an internal investigation by the inspector general’s office that found supply shortages and filthy storage areas that posed as a safety risk for patients, the VA attempted to fire Hawkins in 2017. Although appeal held up his termination, the passage of the legislation allowed the VA to fire Hawkins a second time.
After two years of legal battle, Hawkins proved that the government couldn’t defend their actions in court, arguing that his firing was unconstitutional since the VA used an extremely low standard of proof. According to a June 2017 email sent by Scott Foster, who oversaw the investigations of VA executives, investigators discovered “insufficient’ evidence” to fire Hawkins.
Additionally, it appeared that Trump appointees were eager to fire Hawkins at all costs to earn political points—despite overstepping legal protections. Foster even voiced his concerns about the legality of firing civil servants without following the legal process—and even filing a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) to avoid getting fired.
Court documents stated that Hawkins will be offered his job back and receive back pay; however, the VA could still try to let him go. This recent decision also affects thousands of other VA employees have lost their jobs under the accountability law.