I’m working on a TV reality show — which I naturally will host and become rich from — with a twist. There won’t be any contrived and scripted tribes of people ‘stranded’ on a desert island a la Lord of the Flies. We aren’t going to switch spouses putting a stern task master with a family of slobs. We won’t have fair maidens deciding between a jock and a nerd.
This will be real reality. Actually after-the-fact situations which we may just tell straight out, or maybe (once the big buck sponsors latch on) reenact.
The show should write itself. It will target one of the most unpopular-with-the-public groups: federal workers. If that works — and how can it not? — we can do a spinoff with even less respected professions such as politics, lawyers and the news media.
Many of the true life scenarios for this Stupid Feds Show will be drawn from cases of government workers — white collar, postal and blue collar — who let their political zeal overpower their common sense. We’re talking violations of the Hatch “no politics” Act.
It is a much modified — and watered down — 70 year old law which says federal workers (and officials) shouldn’t get political at the office. No buttons, badges or posters. No recruiting or arm-twisting and definitely no fund raising at the office or on federal facilities.
This should be a no-brainer. But every year, and especially in election years, dozens of U.S. Government workers — Republicans and Democrats — cross the line. Some get away with it. Others get caught.
During the 2008 presidential campaign an IRS revenue agent sent an e-mail — from his office on his government computer — “to numerous individuals, including co-workers” soliciting financial contributions financial for the campaign of candidate Barack H. Obama. In the e-mail he included his name, agency, title, duty location and telephone number. It also linked to three campaign donation sites which took credit cards. So you could donate, if you liked, from your government office. While working.
Whatever your politics, imagine getting a request for funds from an IRS agent!!!
The guy was eventually fired and he appealed his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This is where it gets really good.
He admitted doing it, but said he didn’t know it would be a problem. He said at best he should get a 30 day suspension because there was no deliberate disregard” of the Hatch Act. Besides, he said, the feds on his e-mail list were not subordinates and he didn’t coerce anybody. Also he said he was really sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
He agreed that the IRS had, four days earlier, had given employees a pamphlet entitled Plain Talk About Ethics” which included information on the Hatch Act. He got it, he said, but he didn’t read it.
Bottom line, he is no longer collecting money for Uncle Sam.
One problem with my planned TV series: A woman named Elaine Kaplan. She’s general counsel for the Office of Personnel Management. She’s trying to educate employees as to the perils of politics at the office. She recently issued a warning which — if enough people follow it — will doom me to a life of sweating over a hot key board. Here’s what she said.
Please do not pass it on:
“In view of the upcoming Congressional, state, and local elections this November, it is a good time to remind OPM employees about the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326) and its implementing regulations (5 C.F.R. Part 734).
The Hatch Act and its implementing regulations allow the majority of Federal employees to participate actively in most partisan political activities, so long as they are off duty and not on Federal property. OPM employees who are not career senior executives may:
be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
register and vote as they choose
assist in voter registration drives
express opinions about candidates and issues
contribute money to political organizations
attend political fundraising functions
attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
join and be an active member of a political party or club
sign nominating petitions
campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
hold office in political clubs or parties
Under the Hatch Act, OPM employees may not:
use their official authority or influence to interfere with an election
solicit or discourage the political activity of anyone with business before OPM
ask for, accept, or receive political contributions (may be done in certain limited situations by Federal labor or other employee organizations)
be candidates for public office in partisan elections
participate in political activity (activity directed toward the success of a political party or a candidate for office in a partisan election) while on duty, in Federal offices or worksites, wearing an official uniform, using a government owned or leased vehicle
wear partisan political buttons on duty
Special Caution for All Employees:
Pay particular attention to the prohibition against participating in “political activity” (activity directed toward the success of a political party or a candidate for office in a partisan election) while on duty, or on federal property or while using Government resources, such as office equipment, computers, the email system, telephones, cell phones and PDAs.
Please keep in mind that the prohibition against on duty political activity applies to both government issued equipment and to use of your personal cell phone, pager, email, PDA, and other devices when you are on duty or in a federal facility.
It is especially important that employees do not use government email systems to distribute political messages, as the Office of Special Counsel has been aggressively pursuing such violations in recent years.
In addition, political posting, updating, blogging, tweeting, and other internet activities from the workplace or while on duty are considered violations.
Enforcement and Penalties:
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigates and prosecutes alleged violations, and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) determines whether a violation occurred. The penalty for violating the Hatch Act is removal from your Federal position. The full board of the Merit Systems Protection Board can lower that penalty to a minimum 30 day suspension, but only by a unanimous decision.
You may contact OSC’s Hatch Act Unit if you would like to secure advice about whether or not particular activities violate the Hatch Act. You also can contact the OPM Office of General Counsel via email or at 202-606-1700.
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