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When is a meeting political?

The WP this morning has a follow-up story about that now infamous January 'team-building' meeting at the General Services Administration at which a White House political hack updated politicals on the elections.

Bush administration officials acknowledged that these White House political hacks held 20 of these private briefings in at least 15 agencies.

The White House insists there was nothing inappropriate about the briefings.

This from the WP story:

The administration maintains that the previously undisclosed meetings were appropriate. Those discussing the briefings on the record yesterday uniformly described them as merely "informational briefings about the political landscape." But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who has been investigating the GSA briefing, said, "Politicization of departments and agencies is a serious issue. We need to know more about these and other briefings."

Slate.com's Today's Papers notes, "Amazingly enough, all the officials that the Post talked to at different agencies about the presentations described them as 'informational briefings about the political landscape.'"

We will clearly need to explain the Hatch Act because apparently it is confusing. It seemed pretty clear to me -- essentially, don't use your agency for political purposes. And I don't see how one can argue that these briefings -- see the PowerPoint slides here [.pdf... and a big file at that] -- were not political.

That aside...

I have argued that these meeting were presented to political appointees, not career people, which mitigated the overall impact. But if they are happening across government -- at agency offices -- these are attempts to use the operations of government to help candidates.

The other item worth reading on this subject is the Congressional Research Service's report [.pdf] on this subject that was released at the Doan hearing.

It is important to note that political appointees are covered by the Hatch Act. It seems the question is whether these meetings were part of an effort to rally agencies to help Republican candidates, i.e., were these meetings 'political activities.'

Two excerpts from the CRS report:

"Schedule C" employees in the executive branch are not exempt from the on-duty and on-federal-premises restrictions on political activities in the Hatch Act Amendments, since they are not PAS officials, and may thus not be involved in "political activities" while on duty or in a federal building.

And then this one:

If a meeting or conference in a federal building were held or designed for the purpose of advancing the partisan political interests of a particular political party or group of candidates, and included discussions of strategies or ideas to best use official influences, activities, or resources of an agency for the benefit of a particular party or candidate, then a superior inviting or even accepting voluntary participation from a subordinate schedule C employee in such a session would appear to violate the specific prohibition of the Hatch Act Amendments on use of official authority and influence.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Apr 26, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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