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Office of Special Counsel proposes reforms to Hatch Act

Last Thursday, the Office of Special Counsel-which is responsible for protecting federal employees from illegal treatment-proposed a new bill that would prevent federal employees from automatically losing their job for violation of a law prohibiting certain types of political activity.

The bill proposes reforms to the 1939 Hatch Act, which had the primary goal of prohibiting federal employees in the executive branch from engaging in partisan political activity. The bill would expand the range of penalties available under that law, which only authorizes removal of violators. The bill would allow the Merit Systems Protection Board to determine whether termination is an appropriate penalty. Other penalties would also be available, such as suspension, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for as many as five years, reprimand or a $1,000 fine.

Those who favor the bill say that having removal as the only option can not only be unfair to employees, but can also prevent enforcement of the law, since agencies may choose not to enforce the penalty if they are reluctant to lose a violating employee.

Under the Hatch Act, federal employees are not allowed to run for office in partisan election, engage in political activity while on duty or in a government office, solicit or receive political contributions from anybody except in some instances from labor organizations or employee groups. Federal employees do have some allowances, including being a candidate in a nonpartisan election, contributing money to political organizations and campaigning for or against candidates in partisan elections.

Federal employees can gain partial exemptions to these rules through the Office of Personnel Management in certain situations.

In our next post, we'll keep looking at this topic.

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

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