It's possible to fulfill important roles in the local, state
and federal election processes as a federal employee, but it's
important not to forget the special obligations of federal service. If
you're not sure, ask your supervisor.
The Hatch Act of 1939 is a U.S. federal law whose main purpose
is to prohibit federal employees from engaging in partisan political
activity. Named after Sen. Carl Hatch of New Mexico, the law was
officially known as: "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political
Pernicious is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as
"highly injurious or destructive: Deadly." Problem is,
modern technology allows more ways than ever for federal employees,
even innocently, to have a pernicious effect on their careers.
The upcoming election season is a good time to reflect on what
political activities the Hatch Act does -- and does not -- allow
federal employees to engage in.
Federal employees may:
Be a candidate in a nonpartisan political
election (that is, an election where the candidate is not running
as a member of a political party; examples include city council
and school board elections).
Register and vote as they choose.
Assist in voter registration drives.
Express opinions about candidates and
Attend fund-raisers and contribute money
to political organizations and campaigns.
Volunteer on a campaign.
Recruit volunteers for a political
Participate in activities such as phone
banking and precinct walking.
Display bumper stickers, lawn signs, and
other campaign paraphernalia.
Raise money for their union's political
action committee from other union members.
Volunteer, run for, and hold an office in
a local or state political party.
Federal employees may not:
Be a candidate in a political election in
which any candidate represents a political party.
Raise money for a partisan political
Allow their names to be used in any
fund-raising appeal on behalf of a partisan political campaign.
Participate in a phone bank that is
engaged in fund-raising for a partisan campaign.
Raise money for their union's political
action committee from people other than their fellow union
New technology, and the Hatch Act
Information and computer technology today create situations
that Sen. Hatch could have scarcely dreamed of in 1939. The recent
wave of new technology developments has led to the Office of Special
Counsel (OSC) receiving many calls from federal employees asking new
questions about which activities are and are not allowed.
For example, some employees might have blogs. Or federal
employees may want to post an on-line comment to a political news
story. Federal employees blogging or posting comments about the
election on their own time is not a problem, but posting even a short
entry made at work could lead to trouble.
OSC advises employees:
They must be especially careful if their
blogging activity is focused on the success or failure of a
Blogging for or against a political party
or candidate cannot take place when an employee is on duty, in a
federal building or government vehicle, or via remote access to
the agency's computer network.
This would include agency provided Blackberries and laptop
The OSC is particularly concerned that blogs are interactive
and allow readers to leave comments. If someone reads your
blog, gets excited about your advocacy and posted a sentence saying
'here is a link to contribute,' it may not constitute a violation, but
if someone files a complaint, OSC would have to investigate to make a
Political contributions and fund-raising
Federal employees are free to express their political opinions
on their own blogs and those belonging to political parties and
candidates, so long as they do it off duty. But there are several
areas of concern.
Campaign sites typically have a
"contribute" button next to the comment text boxes. Make
sure there is no appearance that you are doing any fund-raising if
you are posting anything on a campaign Web site.
Employees must not identify themselves in
their official capacity when they post their opinions.
Federal employees should be cautious when
joining group blogs.
One OSC official pointed out particular problems "if
employees appear as a member of a group blog and there are
'contribution' buttons on the site it could look like
So if you do not have control over the content, be careful
about joining a group blog.
During lunch periods or on breaks and if there is no hindrance
to the agency servers employees are free to access personal e-mail
using agency computers and devices, even if the content is highly
political. They are not considered to be engaging in political
activity, so long as only they read the material.
It becomes a problem under the Hatch Act if they take the
e-mail, print it out, and distribute it or forward it to others while
on agency property or on duty or during work hours.
Employees also must not do this when they are remotely linked
to their agency's network.
(Submitted by Fort McCoy Installation Legal