As everyone knows, this is an election year and the political season is well underway with candidates for President, Congress, and state legislatures holding rallies, making speeches, and raising money. It’s almost impossible to ignore.
For federal employees, it also presents some dangers. We are bound by rules that are different than for the general public. The restrictions on our political activities are found in the Hatch Act, Office of Personnel Management regulations, and NRC Management Directive 7.10. They apply to full-time and part-time federal employees, even while on leave.
And the rules come with some stiff consequences. The mandatory penalties for violating the Hatch Act start with a 30-day suspension without pay and can result in termination.
The Hatch Act restrictions only apply to “partisan” elections – elections where candidates run on the labels of national political parties. The vast majority of elections are partisan, including the 2012 election for President, Congress, and state legislatures.
If an election is “nonpartisan,” federal employees are free to participate fully, including running for office or soliciting contributions. Nonpartisan elections are usually for local offices, such as school boards, where none of the candidates are running under political party auspices.
Under the Hatch Act, no NRC employee may receive or solicit contributions or run for office in a “partisan” election (except in designated communities, mainly in the Washington, D.C. area). In addition, no employee can engage in political activity while on duty, in a government office, while wearing a government uniform or insignia, or while using a government vehicle. That prohibition includes using a government computer or e-mail to advocate for or against a partisan political party, a candidate for partisan political office, or a partisan political group, or to make or solicit contributions for a partisan political campaign.
NRC employees cannot even wear a political button or insignia while on duty.
However, NRC and other federal employees are allowed to assist in voter registration drives, contribute money to political organizations and be active in political clubs or parties. And we can put a political bumper sticker on our car even if we park it in a federal building or parking lot.
Members of the career Senior Executive Service (SES) have even more restrictive Hatch Act limitations—they are prohibited from taking any active role in a partisan election.
The intention of the Hatch Act is to keep politics out of the federal government workplace. That keeps all federal employees – including those of us at the NRC – focused on our missions and on our work on behalf of the American public.John Szabo Special Counsel Office of the General Counsel