Information for 'Feds': What about the Hatch Act?
Tehachapi chapter of NARFE
October 10, 2020
The Hatch Act has been in the news lately, receiving much attention and with some questioning the appropriateness or even legality of government officials participating in partisan political activities. So, in this election year, it is appropriate to review the major provisions of the Act as it affects all active federal employees.
First what is the Hatch Act and why have it? The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 to limit certain political activities of federal employees. The purpose is to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are promoted on the basis of achievement and not on political affiliation.
All federal civilian executive branch employees including part-time employees, Postal Service employees, Cabinet secretaries, White House aides, and other political appointees are covered by the Hatch Act. Employees continue to be covered while on leave. The President and Vice President, however, are exempt except for the criminal provisions of the Act. Federal employees fall within two categories under the Act: “Further Restricted” and “Less Restricted.” Most of us fall within the latter category. The “further restricted” include Senior Executive Service and those employed in intelligence and enforcement agencies, among others.
What it allows: Generally federal employees, unless further restricted, may participate in political campaigns and engage in political activities as long as it is not on duty or in the workplace. What it prohibits: principally you cannot be a candidate in a partisan election, engage in political activity while on duty including wearing or displaying partisan materials, make or solicit contributions or request a subordinate to do so. Consequences for violating the Hatch Act can be (and have been) quite severe. A government employee can be fired, demoted, reprimanded or barred from federal employment for up to five years.
The Hatch Act is one of the major civil service reforms that have led to a professional organization instead of one subservient to the whims of political hacks. But, as we’ve seen recently, consequences for violating the Act seem to be different for high-ranking political appointees than they do for the rest of us. Just recently a number of high-level officials have very likely violated the Act but have also gotten away with it. The reality is that there is no intention of ever enforcing the Hatch Act against senior people, and this has been true in other Administrations as well. So it seems that there are two standards: one for senior officials and one for lower-level employees. As federal employees and retirees should we really care - isn’t this just life in the real world? The answer is: Yes, we should care; the standard must apply to all federal employees regardless of rank.
NARFE is the “National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association” with chapters across the country. The Tehachapi chapter of NARFE keeps up to date on this and all legislative matters effecting Feds. To learn more about NARFE and our chapter call Steve Smith (661) 305-6217.