Doing the “Obama Shuffle”… and Becoming a Former Federal Employee After 38 Years of Service

This fervent supporter of Barack Obama was removed for exhorting others while she was at work to support her candidate.

There is no shortage of information available to federal employees about the Hatch Act and how it can derail a federal career. There is also no shortage of cases indicating what can happen to a federal employee who violates the Hatch Act.

Perhaps it is a result of the political passion inspired by a fervent belief in a candidate or politician that drives a person to take action that can result in losing a job.  But, whatever the reason, in every election cycle, there are federal employees who lose their jobs or lose money as a result of violating the Hatch Act. Many of these cases are not borderline incidents where a reasonable person may have made a mistake in judgment. Often, they are blatant.

Here is the latest example.

A Program Analyst/Contracting Officer Technical Representative with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) has been fired for violating the Hatch Act. This employee, while on duty and in the federal workplace, forwarded several partisan political e‐mails, including two that solicited political contributions, to BEP employees and BEP contractor employees over whom she had authority and influence. (Special Counsel v. Pattie Ware, 2010 MSPB 105 (June 9, 2010)

In the first instance, Ms. Ware was alleged to have solicited political contributions when she invited 16 people to a political fundraiser for then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The email contained a link to Obama’s campaign website to find details about the fundraiser.

In the second instance, she was alleged to have knowingly solicited a political contribution to a Presidential candidate’s political campaign. The e-mail contained a link to a website that presented a slideshow containing text, magazine covers, and pictures of Obama, his wife and family at campaign events. The first slide stated: “The Choice is Clear . . . Stand For Change . . . Become a part of the largest grassroots movement in the history of presidential politics. Make a donation below and own a piece of this campaign.”

In the third instance, she allegedly violated the law by engaging in activity while on duty directed at the success of Obama and then Vice-Presidential candidate Joseph Biden. The email she distributed contained “It’s Time VOTE November 4, 2008”; “Obama-Biden ‘Yes We Can'”; and “Remember!!!! Many People Made Great Sacrifices . . . Even Died For Our Rights, Honor Them By Going To The Polls And Casting Your Ballot.”

She also allegedly distributed an email from her government computer to people stating: “This is funny, let’s do the Obama Shuffle. . . . We have to learn this and teach others so that we can do this when Obama Wins. Please forward to everyone you know. . . .”

While the actions that were alleged were not in dispute, a number of reasons were offered and found by the administrative law judge to be mitigating factors. Some of these factors included the cessation of the activity by the federal employee a few weeks before the election; the employee’s past employment record of 38 years of exemplary work; the fact that the person charged was not a supervisor or a high level federal employee; and the employee’s expression of remorse or having taken the actions which led to the charges being filed.

But, despite these mitigating factors, the Board concluded: “[W]e find that it was insufficient to sustain her burden of proving that the Board should not impose the presumptive penalty of removal in this case.”

The bottom line: The political fervor of this 38-year federal employee ended in removal from her job at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

SpecialCounsel v. Ware

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47