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Office of Special Counsel proposes reforms to Hatch Act, P.2

In our last post, we noted that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) recently proposed a new bill aiming to prevent automatic termination of federal employees that engage in prohibited political activity. The bill, we said, would give supervisors of such employees more options for disciplining these employees beyond simply removing them from their position.

Another facet of the new bill is that state and local government employees would be allowed to run in partisan elections. This is different than current law, which prohibits state and local government employees who oversee or are otherwise connected to federally funded program from running in partisan elections.

Current law prevents federal employees from running in such elections even where there is only an insignificant connection to federal funding in their job. One example of this in 2011 was a police officer from Pennsylvania who was not allowed to run in a local school board election because his work dog was connected to funding from the Department of Homeland Security.

According to a spokeswoman from the Office of Special Counsel, the Hatch Act was not intended to cover these types of local and state situations, which are becoming more and more prevalent. Sources said that since 2000, the OSC's Hatch Act Unit has had a workload increase of over 400 percent. Since 2010, especially, there has been an increase of complaints related to inappropriate political activity among federal employees.

In addition to these changes, the new bill seeks to have Congress define "political activity" as used in the Hatch Act, and to lay out what exactly is meant by the federal workplace. This latter issue has become complicated by the increase of social media and telecommuting in recent years.

Source: govexec.com, "Special counsel recommends reforms to law covering improper political activities," Kellie Lunney, Oct 2011.

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