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Impact of “U.S. Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014” on employee morale and work behavior: Does “creating an at-will workplace” lead to better outcomes? (Hur, 2019)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Hur, H. (2019). Impact of “U.S. Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014” on employee morale and work behavior: Does “creating an at-will workplace” lead to better outcomes? Journal of Public Affairs, 19(2), 1-7.

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the U.S. Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act (VACAA) of 2014 on job satisfaction and turnover intentions among employees of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

  • The study used a difference-in-difference regression analysis to compare attitudes of Veterans Affairs (VA) workers relative to Social Security Administration (SSA) workers before and after VACAA. The primary data source was the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.   

  • The study found that a lower share of VA workers was satisfied with their job and a higher share was considering leaving the VA after VACAA was implemented, relative to the comparison group of SSA workers who were not affected by the law.  

  • This study receives a moderate evidence rating. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to VACAA, but other factors might also have contributed. 

Intervention Examined

The creation of an at-will workplace through the Veterans’ Access, Choice and Accountability Act (VACAA) of 2014

Features of the Study

VACAA was intended to address delays in patient care and improve the VA’s performance by creating an at-will workplace from which workers who were not meeting expectations could be removed. Under VACAA, senior executives and individuals in certain leadership roles at the VA could be removed by the Secretary for performance or misconduct reasons without providing notice to the employee or justifying the firing.  

The study used a difference-in-difference statistical model to compare attitudes of VA workers relative to SSA workers before and after VACAA. Data are from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Data from the 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 surveys are used for the pre-VACAA period, while data from the 2015 survey is used for the post-VACAA period. (The 2012 survey is omitted because it did not include some relevant questions.)  

Study participants were federal civilian employees working at the VA (treatment group) or SSA (comparison group). The sample ranges from 2,334 to 28,156 VA employees and from 6,408 to 9,487 SSA employees depending on the year and outcome. The total sample size in person-years is 131,715 for the job satisfaction outcome and 127,469 for the turnover intention outcome. No information on the demographic characteristics of the analytic sample is provided, nor is information on employees’ geographic locations. 

Findings

Attitudes

  • The study found that VACAA decreased VA employees’ job satisfaction relative to SSA employees’ satisfaction by a statistically significant 7 percentage points. The study also found that VACAA increased VA employees’ turnover intentions relative to SSA employees’ by a statistically significant 8 percentage points. 

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The study’s design relies on the two groups—VA workers and SSA workers—having parallel trends prior to VACAA. The author shows that trends for average job satisfaction and average turnover intention were similar for the two groups prior to the law’s implementation; however, small differences in baseline trends could influence the findings. The study’s statistical model controls for important participant characteristics, such as gender, minority status, and age, lending further credence to the results. However, the study cannot rule out that other changes at the same time as VACAA, including the VA’s negative publicity that led Congress to intervene, rather than VACAA itself, could explain the results.  

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to VACAA and not to other factors.

Reviewed by CLEAR

April 2022