Rules restrict political activity by
Department of Defense personnel
|By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With election activity steadily picking up, defense
officials are in the process of issuing regular election-year guidance
to remind military and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians that
they're subject to rules regulating their involvement in political
This issue — one the department regularly addresses during election
periods — came to light earlier this year after an Army Reserve Soldier
in uniform appeared endorsing a political candidate.
Several sets of rules help to protect the integrity of the political
process, DoD officials said. DoD Directive 1344.10 applies to members of
the armed forces, whether they serve on active duty, as members of the
reserve components not on active duty, as National Guard members in a
nonfederal status, and military retirees.
In addition, the Hatch Act applies to federal civilian employees, and
employees also are subject to widely published DoD guidance that
discusses participation in political campaigns and elections.
These rules are designed to prevent military members’ or federal
civilian employees’ participation in political activities that imply —
or even appear to imply — official sponsorship, approval or endorsement,
officials said. The concern, they explained, is that actual or perceived
partisanship could undermine the legitimacy of the military profession
That's not to imply, however, that military members and civilian
employees can't participate in politics. In fact, DoD has a longstanding
policy of encouraging members to carry out the obligations of
citizenship, officials said.
DoD encourages its military and civilian members to register to vote and
vote as they choose, they said. Both groups can sign nominating
petitions for candidates and express their personal opinions about
candidates and issues.
However, officials emphasized, they can do so only if they don’t act as
— or aren’t perceived as — representatives of the armed forces in
carrying out these activities.
Beyond that, the list of dos and don'ts differs depending on whether the
employee is a member of the armed forces, a career civil service
employee, a political appointee or a member of the career Senior
Executive Service, officials said.
Military members, for example, may attend political meetings or rallies
only as spectators and not in uniform.
They're not permitted to make public political speeches, serve in any
official capacity in partisan groups or participate in partisan
political campaigns or conventions.
They also are barred from engaging in any political activities while in
A combat engineer assigned to the 416th Theater Engineer Company
potentially violated these rules Jan. 3 when he stepped onto a stage at
Ron Paul’s headquarters in Ankeny, Iowa, during the Iowa Caucus to offer
a personal endorsement.
Although he was wearing his uniform, the Soldier was not in an active
status at the time, Army Maj. Angela Wallace, an Army Reserve
Wallace emphasized that the Soldier “stands alone in his opinions
regarding his political affiliation and beliefs, and his statements and
beliefs in no way reflect that of the Army Reserve.”
His chain of command is aware of the issue and is considering
appropriate disciplinary action to take, she said.
Most civilian DoD employees, whose political activities are governed by
the Hatch Act, are permitted to be active in and speak before political
gatherings and serve as officers of political parties or partisan
groups, officials said. These activities, however, cannot involve
Civilian employees also are permitted to manage campaigns, distribute
literature, write political articles or serve as a spokesperson for a
party or candidate.
There are, however, exceptions to this, including but not limited to
Senior Executive Service.
While the dos and don'ts concerning political activity may vary, the
basic tenets hold true for all DoD employees.
The bottom line, officials said, is that they should steer clear of any
activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly
associating DoD or the military with a partisan political activity, or
that “is otherwise contrary to the spirit or intent” of the rules