Guest Blogger ~ Jim Carr
News flash! If you haven’t heard, Election Day is less than a month away and Admiral Mahr has asked me to guest blog a reminder about what that means for federal employees.
Many of us are familiar with the Hatch Act, which governs political activity by civilian employees and DoD Directive 1344.10, the primary guidance concerning political activity for service members. Lots of “may nots” and “don’ts” in those two provisions, which can lead to some confusion about what’s allowed and what isn’t.
While the consequences of violating the Hatch Act and DoD policy can be significant, everyone needs to remember an important “don’t.” DON’T FORGET TO VOTE! It’s your right as a citizen and registered voter. Some would even say that voting is one of the obligations of citizenship and nothing in either the Hatch Act or DoD policy restricts, in any way, the right to file an absentee ballot or the right to visit your local polling place on Nov. 6 and choose our country’s leaders (gustatory side note—I also plan on choosing one of those great stuffed ham sandwiches available at my polling place—the Ridge VFD).
So what about the restrictions on federal employees? Well, they’re not as bad as you might think. Both military members and civilian employees can express personal opinions about candidates and issues but be sure to avoid any suggestion that you’re doing so as a representative of the military—hint—lose the uniform, Sailors and Marines. You can make monetary contributions to a political campaign or party and you can display a bumper sticker on your personal vehicle. You can sign a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot and you can write a letter to the editor. You can even post a blog, although service members must specify that any opinions are their personal views and not the views of DoD.
The key to avoiding the Hatch Act police is to refrain from any activity that suggests DoD endorsement or the use of any official time, resources or property. That means no political activity while on duty or while in a federal building (this is the one that trips up most folks). That “reply all” email from your government email address that has the great link to a string of hilarious SNL or Colbert videos about the last debate? DON’T HIT SEND! In fact, you shouldn’t even be receiving emails at work that contain what could be construed as partisan political views.
As for fundraising, while you can contribute to a party or a candidate, you can’t solicit, accept or receive political contributions, even outside the workplace. Service members have even stricter prohibitions against active participation in partisan political activities, although mere attendance at an event doesn’t constitute “participation.” And for service members, the rules on bumper stickers and signs are more restrictive—those that live in military housing (including privatized housing) can’t display any campaign materials that are visible to the public. In addition, displaying a large political sign or banner (basically, anything more than a bumper sticker) on a service member’s personal vehicle is also forbidden. The rules that apply to political appointees and SES civilians are even stricter. As you can see, the “do’s” and “don’ts” can get complicated, so the best advice if you have any questions is to call your assigned attorney for help.
Every year, at least several federal employees get in trouble with the Office of Special Counsel over ill-advised emails or other activity that violates the Hatch Act and associated policy guidance on political activity. Don’t be one of those folks. Now…get out there and vote!
I’m Jim Carr, and I approved this message.