By Mark Wyatt
Department of Defense civilian employees must be aware of the law limiting political activities in the federal workplace, during duty hours, or on federal property at any time.
The law restricting federal employees from engaging in certain political activities is in Title 5 of the United States Code, Sections 7321-7326, and Title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, parts 733 and 734, commonly referred to as the Hatch Act. It defines political activity as “an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group.”
The act limits actions by federal employees to ensure the government functions fairly and effectively. Employees who violate the Hatch Act may be subject to a range of disciplinary actions, including removal from federal service or employment.
According to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, while on duty, employees may not use government computers to send or forward political content or post to social media sites. Additionally, employees must never post a comment to a blog or social media site that advocates for or against a political party, candidate for political office, or political group when in a pay status, other than paid leave, or if representing the government in an official capacity.
The act also prohibits federal civilian employees from distributing campaign materials, performing campaign-related activities, displaying partisan political support to a candidate or political party or making political contributions on government time or by using government equipment.
The Hatch Act ensures federal programs are nonpartisan, federal employees are free from political coercion in the workplace and that promotions are on merit and not political affiliation, according to information on the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s website.
It does not cover members of the military who have their own restrictions; however, if you are a member of the National Guard or the Reserves, as well as a federal civilian employee, the Hatch Act does apply.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel offers advice to civilian employees on how to avoid violating the rules on social media and email at https://osc.gov/Pages/Hatch-Act-Social-Media-and-Email-Guidance.aspx.
Guidance concerning political activity for military members is found in DOD Directive 1344.10. Active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities while in uniform, and all military personnel should avoid creating the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DOD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign or cause. The directive is available at http://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/134410p.pdf.
Additional resources on the Hatch Act are located at the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s website at https://osc.gov/Pages/HatchAct-AdditionalResouces.aspx.
To request an advisory opinion from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, go online to https://osc.gov/Pages/HatchAct-AdvisoryAction.aspx or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s note: Wyatt is with the 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.)