VA Bonuses: This Week's WORST Government Decision

Jun 5, 2014

During a week in which the most hotly debated news topic has been the quality of decision-making by senior federal government officials, my nominee for the worst decision is VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s parting gesture not only to cancel performance bonuses for senior VA executives, but to ban patient wait time as a measure used in performance evaluations.

Once again, our senior government officials are focused on solving the wrong problem. Given the obvious importance of serving our veterans and the obvious magnitude of the waiting-time problem, now is the perfect time to reward administrators who successfully shorten waiting times. The bonuses should of course not be paid out until the waiting time numbers are validated, but isn’t that equally obvious?

Commentators and legislators on both sides of the aisle are decrying the crass lure of money and its corrupting influence. Yes, that’s one way to look at it. Here’s another way: embrace the powerful effect of compensation on motivation and performance. The best metrics for rewarding performance are measurable, easy to understand, and bear an explicit and clear relationship to the enterprise’s strategic goals – in those senses, VA patient waiting time is an ideal metric. And the metric should either be hard to fudge or measurement should be properly controlled and validated – this concept is deeply ingrained in well-run businesses, but less so where our tax dollars are concerned.

Properly rewarding the people who are part of the solution is the right thing to do, not the wrong thing.

[As a side note, I’m equally disappointed in the response of Republican members of Congress, who are using this fiasco to pile more mud on an administration of already questionable competence. As members of the party that is supposed to be in favor of a more businesslike government, these legislators could have taken a more constructive approach, rather than calling for measures that punish good administrators as well as bad ones.]

[On another side note, I ask you: How does this chain of events, including the administration’s response, affect your confidence in our government’s ability to administer a single-payer healthcare system?]

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