As we edge closer to the upcoming elections in November, political passions are already running high among citizens who follow politics closely.
Will Senator Joe Lieberman retain his Senate seat while running as an independent after having been dumped by voters in the Democrats’ primary in Connecticut? Will political organizations such as MoveOn.org have an extraordinary impact in the upcoming election by funneling large amounts of money to candidates who are willing to support the political objectives of these organizations?
And, as we are now accustomed to seeing during the political season, federal employee unions will be endorsing candidates, spending money and asking federal employees to volunteer to support candidates and to advance the political objectives of unions.
Here is a word to the wise: be very careful.
As one federal attorney learned, a federal employee who gets too involved in politics can get fired.
Last, year, the Office of Special Counsel concluded that an attorney with the Small Business Administration had exceeded acceptable boundaries expressing his political passion. Unfortunately for his federal career, he found it useful or necessary to display his passion using Uncle Sam’s computer keyboard and internet access portal while also being paid to be a federal attorney for the Small Business Administration (SBA)
The SBA had previously suspended the errant barrister for similar activities. But the political appeal of the Green Party proved too much of a temptation. In his 22-page initial decision, the administrative judge found that over a three-year period, the federal employee had received, read, drafted or sent more than 100 emails through his government computer that were directed toward the success of the Green Party.
So what will happen now? Will this enthusiastic political supporter lose a month’s pay while he sits at home and thinks about what happened?
Apparently not. Here is what the Merit Systems Protection Board has to say about the case: “Under 5 U.S.C. § 7326, the Board must order the removal of an employee found to have violated section 7324, unless it finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal, in which case it may impose a lesser penalty of not less than 30 days suspension without pay. The Board agreed with ALJ’s reasoning and found unanimously that the penalty of removal is warranted in this case.”
The Small Business Administration has been ordered to fire the political volunteer from his Staff Attorney Position for violating the Hatch Act. Special Counsel v. Eisinger, CB-1216-05-0011-T-1 (August 9, 2006)
What should a federal employee do who wishes to become politically active? Remember that it is your career at stake! Check with your agency or the Office of Special Counsel before taking part in political activity to understand the limitations that apply to federal employees. While Uncle Sam is a lenient employer and often forgiving of problems that arise, a federal employee who does not pay attention to the Hatch Act limitations can find that it is possible to get fired from a federal job and the appeals process may not result in getting your job back.