Hatch Act outlines restrictions on political activity by federal employees

By Sara Thompson DLA Office of General Counsel

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With the 2016 election season in full swing, people are getting involved in political activities and supporting their favorite party or candidate. However, federal employees need to be aware of legal restrictions on their political activity set forth in the Hatch Act. 

The Hatch Act governs the political activity of employees in the executive branch, which includes DLA employees. Specifically, the Hatch Act forbids activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, a partisan political candidate or a partisan political group while the employee is on duty or in a federal building.

The purpose of the Act is to protect employees from coercion about how they vote and to assure the public that the government is being run in a nonpartisan manner. Thus, there are many political activities employees may engage in while off-duty and on their personal time.  

In general, all DoD employees may vote, express personal opinions about candidates or issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or candidate, display a political bumper sticker on a personal vehicle, attend political events and participate in nonpartisan activities not specifically identified with a political party. Political discussions among coworkers are also permitted as long as the discussions are casual and do not include any person trying to convince others to adopt partisan political ideas or support a certain candidate or party.  

However, DoD employees may not participate in any political activity while on duty or in a federal building; use the insignia of a government office while participating in political activities; solicit, accept or receive political contributions; display campaign photos, posters, bumper stickers, or other campaign material in a federal building; engage in political activity while using a government vehicle; host a fundraiser for a partisan candidate; or run for public office in a partisan election. 

Most General Schedule employees are not restricted by additional guidelines, and therefore may participate in a variety of other activities, such as volunteering with a partisan campaign while off duty, attending political rallies and meetings, and volunteering at the polls on Election Day. However, individuals appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, career and non-career members of the Senior Executive Service, contract appeals board members and all employees of the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency are further restricted and may not participate in any partisan campaign activities. 

As social media has become a major mode of communication, employees should also be aware of the Hatch Act as it applies to political activities conducted on social media. 

Employees may not:

1) tweet, retweet, share or like a post or content that solicits political contributions; 
2) like or follow the social media page of a candidate or partisan group while on duty or in the workplace; or 
3) use their social media account while in their official capacity to engage in political activity.  

Finally, employees should understand that they may not engage in political activity via social media (e-mail, blog, tweet, post) while on duty even if using a personal device or email account.  This means that employees may not like, follow, tweet, retweet or share a post while “teleworking,” even if the employee is using his or her own personal device or email account in their own home.

Active-duty service members have restrictions not applicable to civilians. Military rules on partisan activities are outlined in DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.

The penalties for violating the Hatch Act are severe, and employees should seek advice before participating in any questionable activities. Employees should contact the DLA Office of General Counsel with specific questions. 

Click here for the full text of the Hatch Act.

Click here for Hatch Act information
 from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act. 

Click here for a Q&A guide from the DoD Office of General Counsel.

Click here for a copy of DoD Directive 1344.10, Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.