Workforce

Oversight chairs probe political activities of feds

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The chairs of two congressional oversight committees want answers about agencies' policies and practices regarding unpaid leave requests for employees to participate in campaign activity.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), respectively the chairs of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, asked 10 agencies for information about their policies governing employees using unpaid leave to participate in union-related political activity.

In letters, the congressmen requested information from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.

The letters follow the Office of Special Counsel's determination that U.S. Postal Service management enabled the union's political activity by granting requests for unpaid leave by postal officials, who were later reimbursed by the political action fund of the National Association of Letter Carriers, in order to campaign in the lead-up to Election Day 2016. In its report, OSC ruled that disciplinary action was not necessary to handle "the systemic violations of the Hatch Act," but corrective actions were.

The Senate committee held a hearing on the investigations conducted by OSC and USPS's inspector general -- finding that similar practices are long-standing at USPS -- in July.

The congressmen are asking agencies to provide information about the use of leave without pay in the three months prior to a federal election. Specifically, they requested the number of employees who requested leave without pay and the number of employees granted or denied requests.

They also requested the number of employees granted requests to participate in union-related political activities, political activities generally and political activities lasting at least 14 days, as well as any policies, procedures or agreements relating to employee leave without pay requests.

Congressional attempts to come down on union activity are nothing new this session, particularly on Gowdy's committee. In March, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) introduced a bill that would prohibit employees from "engaging in any political activity, including lobbying" while on official time.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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