Wednesday, June 25, 2008
It is the season again when our attention is focused on political campaigns. For federal employees, this can be an exciting time because, in essence, you are selecting your next boss! But, this can also be a time when employees’ interests in helping candidates become problematic because of the limitations imposed on federal employees’ political activities. A mistake here can turn a current employee into a former employee … involuntarily! There are many limitations on the rights of federal employees to get involved in political activities. These limitations are set forth in the Hatch Act. It is important that you observe these limitations, as failure to do so may result in your termination from federal service.
Federal employees are prohibited from engaging in certain types of political activities and at certain times and places. For example, you are prohibited from: (1) using your official authority to interfere with an election; (2) knowingly soliciting or receiving a political contribution from any person, except in certain circumstances as discussed below under the heading “Permitted Activities”; (3) running for the nomination or as a candidate for election to a partisan political office; (4) allowing your official title to be used in connection with fund-raising activities; (5) knowingly soliciting or discouraging participation in any political activity of any person who has an application for any compensation or grant before your agency or is being audited by your agency; (6) using your official title while participating in political activity; or (7) soliciting or accepting uncompensated individual volunteer services from a subordinate for any political purpose. A federal employee may not host a fund-raiser at his or her home. However, a spouse who is not covered by the Hatch Act may host such a fund-raiser, and the employee may attend. Remember, you are never permitted to engage in partisan political activity while on duty, or while you are in any room or building occupied in the discharge of your official duties.
Although the Hatch Act prohibits a number of political activities by federal employees, there are many activities specifically permitted by the law. For example, you may: (1) express your opinion privately and publicly on political subjects; (2) be politically active regarding an issue not specifically identified with a political party, for example, constitutional amendments; (3) participate in nonpartisan activities such as civic, community or professional organizations; (4) participate fully in public affairs; (5) be a member of a political party; (6) serve as an officer of a political party, or of a committee of such group; (7) attend and participate fully in the business of nominating caucuses of political parties; (8) organize a political party, and participate in political conventions, rallies or other gatherings; (9) serve as a delegate to political party convention; (10) participate, including holding office, in any nonpartisan group; (11) canvass voters by telephone on behalf of a political party or partisan political candidate; (12) distribute campaign leaflets by hand to homes or parked cars; (13) place a sign in your yard supporting a candidate for political office; and (14) attend a political fundraiser. The Hatch Act does allow federal employees to run for public office under certain circumstances, but always in nonpartisan elections. Hatch Act prohibitions are even more strict for employees of certain federal agencies. Such as the CIA, Secret Service, Merit Systems Protection Board, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, National Security Council, Defense Intelligence Agency, and Office of Criminal Investigation of the IRS, to name but a few.
Discipline for Violating the Hatch Act
Employees who violate these rules may be subject to stiff penalties, including termination from employment and debarment from employment with the federal government for a number of years. If you have any questions concerning activities permitted under the Hatch Act, you are encouraged to contact the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (www.osc.gov) or your agency’s ethics office. You should also ask for a written opinion in case you are later challenged about an activity you believed had been authorized.