Waste Treatment Plant Tour Leads to Hatch Act Violation

Despite warnings not to do so, an Energy Department employee gave a tour of a waste treatment plant to a Congressional candidate that resulted in a Hatch Act violation.

The Office of Special Counsel announced that a federal employee at the Department of Energy voluntarily resigned after admitting that she violated the Hatch Act by giving a tour to a candidate running for U.S. Congress. The employee has also been debarred from working from federal employment for three years.

According to OSC, the employee provided a guided tour of a radioactive waste treatment plant in Washington State to the Congressional candidate. The purpose of the tour, which was not open to the general public, was to provide the candidate with information for her campaign. The candidate had repeatedly sought a tour of the plant to demonstrate her familiarity with the project to potential voters. However, citing potential Hatch Act violations, DOE denied her requests.

OSC filed a Hatch Act complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board last November in which it said the employee’s actions to be a flagrant Hatch Act violation because she knew that DOE had previously denied the candidate’s tour requests.

Moreover, just three days before she gave the tour, the employee received a reminder about how such a tour could violate the Hatch Act. Despite having this information, OSC said that the employee unilaterally used her official authority to give the tour and that information and photographs from the tour were then used to further the candidate’s campaign.

After OSC’s complaint was filed, the employee voluntarily resigned from her employment at DOE as of January 4, 2020. As part of the settlement agreement, she admitted to violating the Hatch Act and agreed to a 3-year debarment from federal employment.

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.