The Hatch Act continues to trip up some federal employees who find themselves on the receiving end of action by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) which is responsible for enforcing Hatch Act Violations.
Most readers have probably heard of the Hatch Act but may not be very familiar with what it does and how it affects them. As these cases demonstrate, not knowing the restrictions of the Hatch Act can have a negative impact on your federal career. In effect, the Hatch Act limits and regulates the political activity of federal employees. It prohibits federal employees from soliciting, accepting, or receiving a political contribution from any person, except in limited circumstances. It also limits the political activities of federal employees in various circumstances.
The good news for federal employees in this is that the complex system of checks and balances also protects federal employees from being coerced into giving money or campaigning for candidates for office if they want to keep their federal job.
In the latest case, OSC has announced it has filed two complaints for disciplinary action against two federal employees for violating the Hatch Act.
OSC filed the complaints with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) last month. One complaint charges an employee of the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Nayland Collier, with Hatch Act violations. The complaint alleges that as Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect Lewis C. Hoggard III for Commissioner of Bertie County, North Carolina, he was identified as the sender of a letter that went to approximately 144 people seeking political contributions for the candidate. The letter sought support by attending a reception for the candidate or sending a contribution to his campaign.
OSC says that Dr. Collier was aware of and agreed to the contents of the letter, although the Committee to Re-elect Lewis Hoggard III sent the letter. The OSC complaint contends this action was in violation of the Hatch Act prohibition on soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions in support of Mr. Hoggard’s partisan candidacy.
Dr. Collier is a Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer of the Food and Safety and Inspection Service.
The other complaint filed by OSC alleges that a Navy civilian, Rocky Morrill, sent an e-mail message while on duty with the subject, “Halloween party for Tim Holden.”
Holden is a U.S. Representative seeking reelection to the 17th Congressional district of Pennsylvania. Morrill’s e-mail went to more than 300 Naval Inventory Control Point employees and other individuals.
The message contained an invitation attachment and encouraged people to attend the party and “meet Tim Holden.” OSC argues that sending the e-mail was a violation of the Hatch Act prohibitions against engaging in political activity while on duty and while in any government room or building.
Mr. Morrill is a civilian employee with the Department of the Navy at the Naval Inventory Control Point in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
This is certainly not the first time a federal employee has run afoul of the Hatch Act although the number of reported cases is rare. Earlier this year, an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration lost his court appeal of a 120 days suspension stemming from his candidacy for mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Federal employees do not always lose in these cases. The Special Counsel filed a complaint earlier this year contending two employees of the Social Security Administration violated the Hatch Act when they sent out e-mail in support of presidential candidates. An administrative law judge ruled that sending an e-mail in support of a presidential candidate was an expression of a personal opinion and not a Hatch Act violation. A final decision has not yet been issued in that case.
The Office of Special Counsel has had its own problems this year dealing with allegations that the Special Counsel is not properly interpreting and applying the laws or regulations within its jurisdiction.