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Feds reminded to keep politics out of the office

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 7:57 a.m. ET
Federal workers, you've been warned: Don't do any politicking while on the clock.

The Office of Special Counsel -- an investigative agency primarily looking out for whistleblowers -- is reminding the rank and file to observe the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal workers from engaging in certain political activities.

Federal employees and political appointees may vote, run for office in nonpartisan elections, participate in voter registration drives, attend political rallies, give political speeches, attend political conventions or hold office in political clubs, according to the law. But they cannot do so while on duty and cannot use their position to influence the outcome of an election, solicit, accept or receive political contributions, wear campaign buttons on their uniforms or run for office in partisan elections. (In response to a question in the comments section -- they may use their personal vehicles for political purposes, but cannot use government-owned or issued vehicles for political purposes.)

On Tuesday OSC reminded federal workers of potentially serious consequences for by citing recent settlements with two federal workers who violated the law.

In the first case, a Bureau of Engraving and Printing employee forwarded several partisan e-mails to her subordinates, including two messages that sought political contributions. The BEP official thus used her position of authority to influence an election, tried to solicit campaign donations and engaged in political activity while on government property. The Merit Systems Protection Board, which reviews ethics violations, ordered the employee removed from her job.

In the second case, an Internal Revenue Service employee sent a fundraising e-mail to about four dozen recipients while on duty at her government office. The e-mail requested contributions for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and provided links to make contributions online. The IRS worker violated the Hatch Act's prohibition on political activity during office hours and while at the workplace and MSPB ordered the worker suspended for 120 days.

Plenty of rank and file federal workers may take time off in the coming days to participate in political activities organized by their unions, stand on street corners to wave signs or distribute political literature. But any worker who attempts to do so while on duty is likely to get caught.

Is the Hatch Act practical or too restrictive? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Question of the Week: A new Post poll finds 52 percent of Americans believe federal workers are overpaid, and more than a third believe they're less qualified than private sector workers. But three out of four respondents who interacted with a federal employee said it was a positive experience. What do you think? E-mail and please include your full name and hometown. We may use your comments in Friday's Post.

Native American farmers settle with USDA for $760 million: The move resolves charges that for decades the department discriminated against them in loan programs.

Shots fired at Pentagon building; officials search for clues: The shots were fired shortly before 5 a.m. Tuesday, shattering, but not penetrating, windows on the third and fourth floors.

Task force probing whether banks broke federal laws during home seizures: They'll investigate possible criminal violations in connection with the national foreclosure crisis.

Retired feds could see one-time Social Security bonus: They could receive an additional $250 retirement payment if Congress approves pending legislation this winter.

OPM and unions tussle over employee appeal rights: They're butting heads over the appeal rights of four federal workers removed from their jobs.

Right to photograph federal buildings upheld: The federal agency responsible for protecting federal facilities is reminding its security guards that the general public has the right to take photographs and shoot video outside buildings.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 20, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Workplace Issues  
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Next: Hillary Clinton to gay teens: 'Tomorrow Will Be Better'


What about cars belonging to feds that drive to work, and have political stickers on them? Is that considered politicking?

Posted by: rusty6 | October 20, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

rusty6 - It's Ed O'Keefe. I posted an answer to your question in the story above. But basically yes, they can use their personal vehicles. They cannot however use government owned or issued vehicles for political purposes.

Posted by: Ed O'Keefe | October 20, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Also, federal employees are allowed to make personal donations to political campaigns if they choose.

Posted by: acb1 | October 20, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I was working at a US embassy leading up to Obama's win. There were campaign buttons worn during duty hours.. There were Left wing emailings. There were rantings and speeches at meetings. The Embassy showed Obama films and opened up to the host nation. A disgusting display of blatant partisanship. Subsequent to this and the conservatives in the embassy were subsequently removed from country at the behest of the ambassador - an atmosphere of total intimidation and fear. Obama's Leftist Nazi thugs are alive and well getting away wig blatant abuse of power. Who's going to stop them?

Posted by: Capitalist-1 | October 20, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

what a stupid law
i know nothing will ever be done about this but since Federal employees are not allowed to campaingn for anyone while elections are coming up why do they not put a stop to encumbants who campaign while in office since they are federal employees.

Posted by: robertbeaver | October 20, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

what a stupid law
i know nothing will ever be done about this but since Federal employees are not allowed to campaingn for anyone while elections are coming up why do they not put a stop to encumbants who campaign while in office since they are federal employees.

Posted by: robertbeaver | October 20, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

So, in summary, Partisan Politicians can scapegoat the federal workforce all they want, but the federal workforce cannot particiapate in partisan politics or run for higher office. Sad. Repeal the Hatch Act!

Posted by: jhalldc | October 20, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I call BS on Capitalist-1. A Bush Administration embassy was actively supporting Obama in the lead-up to the 2008 election? Sure. Oh, and then he or she equates our center-left President with a dictator who tried taking over the world and slaughtered tens of millions. The mantra of the far right seems to be the more ridiculous the accusation, the more likely it is to be believed.

I can't wait until all these lunatic liars eventually crawl back under their rocks and we regain a shred of sanity.

Posted by: dave_cny | October 20, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

When I worked on-site alongside Federal employees, I was grateful for this law. Many of my colleagues had politics that differed greatly from mine (they would share LOUDLY when I'd see them at non-work functions, happy hours, social events, etc.). Not having to be bombarded by their political affiliations while getting my work done was very nice. I don't think I could have been nearly as productive (or professional) if I'd had to hear their campaigning during office hours.

Posted by: CJH2 | October 20, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

The reality of the Hatch Act is that is often misrepresented, as it is in this article. There are exceptions to the Hatch Act that basically exempts the non-career employee. Agencies are then designated as there are less restricted and further restricted. The only difference I can see between the designation is that the agencies that are covered by unions are less restricted.

In the further restricted category you can't engage in political activity in your private life either. You can vote and attend a rally but you can't hand out literature or register voters. You can't even put a political bumper sticker on your car. Interesting that Congress structured the Act to allow us to give money to campaigns, but not participate in them.

Most ridiculous is the recent guidance that you can't friend a politicians' FACEBOOK page, groups like Organizing for America or friend someone that links to a political page or who has a political perspective. Now I am expected to police my social network associations and scan the pages of friends on FACEBOOK to ensure I'm not supporting a candidate by associating with someone that does?! And doing so can affect my employment with the government!

The Hatch Act requires me to give up my right to participate in this democracy even when I am at home, in my community, and using my computer. I can't take a leave of absence and participate either. However, one third of our workforce is contracted and not covered under the Hatch Act.

Repeal the Hatch Act or require all companies that contract with agencies under the "further restricted" Hatch Act to adhere to the same restrictions.

Why are we spending taxpayer dollars to police a million employees participation in democracy? We are expected to work to protect the Constitution and at the same time give up our Constitutional right to participate in this democracy.

It is unclear how to advocate for the repeal of the Hatch Act and any ideas are welcome.

Posted by: sjbrown1 | October 20, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

I'm with DAVE_CNY on this.

It's easy to smell teaba- partiers a mile away.

It's the stench of hate and ignorance, of history and so much else.

Posted by: lquarton | October 20, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree with sjbrown1...

Just repeal the stupid thing, or better yet, revise it only that MANAGEMENT can not participate. That way mgmt can not influence their power over worker opinions or votes, like they do with so many other things!

Posted by: darbyohara | October 21, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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