Gov Careers

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

Count ‘em before they’re Hatched

With an eye to the approaching elections, “Federal Diary” in today’s Washington Post took a quick "heads up" look at the Hatch Act, especially  as it relates to social media.

The Hatch Act generally forbids feds from participating in political activity while at the workplace or while on government time—or while using a government computer. News articles reviewing the law pop up every fall as elections draw near, but as the paper points out, social media have added a new dimension to the issue.

Social media are just about everywhere, and people—feds and otherwise—post comments and opinions so often and easily that the process of doing it has gotten integrated into the daily flow of activity. Overlay that with an increase in telework and the lines get even more blurred.

When it comes down to it , maybe the luckiest feds are the employees that a lawyer friend of mine who works at the Federal Election Commission refers to as “totally Hatched out” (as he is). These include people like FEC employees and certain law enforcement officers, intel types, judges, senior execs, and others. The safest rule for them: “Keep it zipped.”

The Office of Special Counsel, which oversees the Act, has posted all the rules on its Web site for quick reference, along with examples that clarify how and when they apply.

Of course, despite the annual advance warnings, some feds get nailed for violations every election cycle. And in most cases, the people charged say they simply were ignorant of the Hatch Act’s finer points. But we have read a lot of the decisions in these cases, and the majority of the violations seem pretty obvious to us—for example, soliciting campaign donations or emailing political materials while on the job.

So—do you understand the rules? And do you think most feds even have occasion to worry about it?

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Aug 24, 2010 at 12:13 PM


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