On the campaign trail, then-GOP presidential contender Donald J. Trump pledged often to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., noting that the nation’s capital had become a cesspool of political chicanery while ineptitude, inefficiency and corruption had metastasized throughout the federal bureaucracy.
Few Americans realize just how difficult that task is going to be, but a recent example involving the perennially inept Department of Veterans Affairs should make clear just how daunting a task Trump has ahead of him.
On the day he was inaugurated, President Trump fired a chronically corrupt VA manager, only to see him walk back on the job a few months later.
As reported by The Daily Caller, Trump’s dismissal of DeWayne Hamlin, the director of the VA Caribbean Healthcare System, won rousing acclaim from veterans who saw it not only as the president keeping his campaign pledges, but also as the first of many steps involving real reform of the nation’s biggest healthcare and hospital network.
But despite the president’s inherent authority over the Executive Branch, even his power does not match that of the federal civil service, The DC noted, who filed a protections appeal to get his job back:
The return of the Puerto Rico hospital director is the latest example of Trump’s reform efforts encountering the entrenchment of what he has called Washington’s swamp, and comes in the same month a court ruled that the VA may not even be able to fire the Phoenix hospital director, who is a convicted felon as a result of job-related misconduct.
Frankly that is outrageous. More than that, it’s very likely a stunning realization for tens of millions of Americans who likely had no idea just how entrenched in a protective system federal employees really are. (Related: Read VA hospital kills more American soldiers than our enemies.)
“On the morning of January 20, 2017, the Department removed [Hamlin]…from the federal civil service. Mr. Hamlin subsequently appealed his removal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and because of particulars in his case that remain under active litigation, he was brought back to work at VA,” said department spokesman James Hutton in a statement to The DC.
“As we have underscored since January 20, President Trump and [VA] Secretary [David] Shulkin have made employee accountability a top priority, and we will continue to take appropriate disciplinary actions with our employees. The Secretary in this case was not able to overturn this decision once he was made aware of it. We need this ability in new legislation.”
In other words, Congress will have to step in.
Hamlin was allowed to return to work at the VA even after the attempted firing of Joseph Colon, a whistleblower who told officials that Hamlin had been arrested for driving while intoxicated and was found with painkiller medications for which he had no prescription. Taking opiates from the VA system and using them for recreational purposes is a huge problem at the VA, The DC reported.
It gets worse. When a subordinate — Rosayma Lopez — angered Hamlin after refusing to fire Colon, she was offered $300,000 in taxpayer funds to quit her job, which, had she done so, would have amounted to the biggest payout/settlement in recent department history. She did not take the payout.
These are just a few of the many serious problems inherent at the Puerto Rico VA that Hamlin led, to include routine absenteeism of staff. Despite these and other problems, President Obama VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, made sure to fly Hamlin to the nation’s capital to mold future leaders in his vision at a “Leaders Developing Leaders” conference. Disgusting. (Related: Read Trump, Congress ‘fix’ broken VA: New law allows vets to seek private-sector care.)
Numerous VA employees at the facility in Puerto Rico were shocked and upset when Hamlin returned to work earlier this month.
Lawyers for the VA have been evasive about Hamlin’s actual role, but they have admitted that yes, he is back at the facility in some capacity, which ought to shock the sensibilities of every reasonable American, regardless of whether or not they served in the military.
The Trump administration should not wait for Congress to take this up. These are veterans, and no issue is as bipartisan as this. The White House should write its own legislation reforming federal employment rules based on this VA outrage and get them shoved through Congress so the president can sign it.
Keep up with this story as it develops at The National Sentinel.
J.D. Heyes is a senior writer for NaturalNews.com and NewsTarget.com, as well as editor of The National Sentinel.