Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a two-part series addressing what service members and Defense Department civilian employees can and can’t do in regards to political activities.
The Hatch Act, first passed in 1939, is a federal law which establishes rules for federal employees in the executive branch of the federal government who wish to engage in partisan political activity. The act was originally passed after numerous members of the Works Progress Administration abused their governmental positions in order to win votes for the Democratic Party in 1938.
The Hatch Act continues to make news today as the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, released a report earlier this year that found widespread violations of the Hatch Act occurred by “the entire staff” of the Office of Political Affairs for President George W. Bush in 2006.
While the Hatch Act may seem complicated, complying with it is actually relatively easy. The first step is determining whether the Hatch Act applies to you.
Generally, all non-military Defense Department employees in Stuttgart will be covered by the Hatch Act.
The second step is to figure out if you are a “Less Restricted Employee” or a “Further Restricted Employee.” The difference between the two dictates what political activities one can and cannot engage in.
In Stuttgart, most people are characterized as “Less Restricted Employees.”
The “Further Restricted Employees” in Stuttgart include members of the Senior Executive Service and those in intelligence agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency. If you believe that you are a “Further Restricted Employee” and wish to engage in political activities, contact the Stuttgart Law Center for specific restrictions, as they are much stricter than those for “Less Restricted Employees.”
“Less Restricted Employees” engaging in political activity while on duty, in a federal room or building, while wearing an official uniform or insignia, or while using a government vehicle will almost always be prohibited. Examples of violations would be placing a campaign banner in one’s office or wearing a partisan button or shirt while on duty or in a government building.
Official photographs of President Obama, such as the traditional photo of the president found in all federal buildings and photographs of the president conducting official business, are allowed.
Almost all other photographs of any political candidate, including the president, are prohibited and cannot be displayed in a federal room or building.
Further, using one’s official authority or influence to interfere with the results of an election, or to solicit, accept or receive political contributions, is also in violation of the Hatch Act. This includes using one’s name and/or duty position in an attempt to solicit money for a campaign.
As long as “Less Restricted Employees” comply with these guidelines, then they will generally be able to take an active part in a partisan election.
This means that they could put campaign signs in their own yards; create and distribute to almost any source pamphlets, letters or blogs (including Facebook and Twitter) that advocate or oppose a political party or member; attend and be active at political rallies and meetings; and take an active part in managing a political candidate’s campaign.
Failure to comply with the Hatch Act mandates a punishment of not less than 30 days suspension without pay and can result in being fired from one’s job.
Military personnel are covered by DOD Directive 1344.10. See page 5 in the Nov. 3 Citizen. The above guidelines are not an all-inclusive list of allowed and disallowed activities. For specific questions, contact the Stuttgart Law Center’s Administrative Law section at 421-2817/civ. 0711-729-2817.