Political activity by federal employees that violates the Hatch Act continues to provide work for the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
An employee of the Veterans Administration has admitted that he violated the Hatch Act during the last presidential election. OSC had filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) earlier this year against Eric Foster, a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee in Columbus, Ohio, for violating the Hatch Act.
He was charged with engaging in political activity while in a government room or building. OSC also alleged he engaged in this activity despite his knowledge of Hatch Act prohibitions.
The charges apparently had some merit as the VA employee admits that he distributed campaign stickers supporting John Kerry for President of the United States at a VA Clinic in Columbus, Ohio. Further, Mr. Foster admitted that his distribution of the campaign materials while in a federal facility violates the Hatch Act.
As a result, he agreed to retire from his position no later than September 5, 2006.
Special Counsel Scott Bloch said, “This case presents a cautionary tale. If you engage in political activity on government property or use government resources for partisan ends, OSC will prosecute.”
That appears to be the case as a number of cases have been taken against federal employees for Hatch Act violations in recent months. Some of the actions were against senior officials such as the case of a political appointee in Alaska, a lawyer with the Small Business Administration in California, a Navy employee working as a union official, and a veterinarian with the USDA–just to name a few.
As we near the Congressional elections this Fall, federal employees would be well advised to consult with their agency experts on Hatch Act activities before taking a deep plunge into politics that could end a rewarding federal career.