Federal Managers Association
- FMA SUBMITS WRITTEN TESTIMONY ON HATCH ACT REFORM - MAY 16, 2012
Testimony for the Record
Before the United States House of Representatives
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy
May 16, 2012
Hatch Act: Options for Reform
Statement Submitted for the Record by
Federal Managers Association
Chairman Ross, Ranking Member Lynch and Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy:
On behalf of the over 200,000 managers, supervisors, and executives in the federal government whose interests are represented by the Federal Managers Association (FMA), we would like to thank you for allowing us to express our views regarding reforms to Title 5 of U.S. Code, commonly referred to as the Hatch Act.
Established in 1913, FMA is the largest and oldest association of managers and supervisors in the federal government. FMA originally organized within the Department of Defense to represent the interests of its civil service managers and supervisors, and has since branched out to include nearly forty different federal departments and agencies. We are a nonprofit, professional, membership-based advocacy organization dedicated to promoting excellence in the federal government.
Background of the Hatch Act
Established in 1939, the Hatch Act regulates the political activities of federal employees and some state and local government workers to ensure their positions within public administration are not wrongfully used to influence our country’s political system.
While the Hatch Act was enacted more than seventy years ago, it has only been reformed once. In 1993, restrictions were eased to encourage federal employees to be more politically active. Now, most federal employees are eligible to run for nonpartisan offices, contribute to political organizations, get involved in political groups, and campaign for candidates by making speeches, distributing literature and signing nominating petitions. The remaining restrictions on federal employees' activities include: banning them from using their authority to exert influence over an election; encouraging or discouraging political activity by anyone with business before their agency; participating in political work while on duty, in uniform, in the office or in a government vehicle; running for partisan office; and, wearing political buttons or paraphernalia while on duty.
It is the duty of the Office of Special Council (OSC) to ensure federal employees are not violating the Hatch Act and to issue reprimand for those who misuse their position within government. As specified by OSC, any employee found in violation of the Hatch Act will be removed from their position. In rare occasions, the Merit System Protection Board can issue an unpaid suspension of no less than thirty days, if permanent removal is not warranted. At FMA, we take all necessary precautions to ensure our members can take part in political activity without violating the Hatch Act, including regular reminders on correspondence of political nature of the consequences of Hatch Act violations. However, in the age of social networking and advancing technology, sharing political information has become incredibly easy. This has led to federal employees inadvertently sharing political information, as well as avoiding political activity at all costs out of fear of the consequences. FMA feels the current penalties for the Hatch Act prevent federal employees from being fully involved and active citizens.
H.R. 4152 – The Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012
The Federal Managers Association applauds Representative Cummings (D-Md.) and his colleagues for their efforts to construct this important legislation, encouraging local, state, and federal workers to become more politically involved. As an advocate for federal managers, FMA supports H.R. 4152, particularly the language modifying the current penalties for those who violate the Hatch Act. Amending the penalties to a tiered system is more conducive for encouraging a civic-minded federal workforce.
As the Hatch Act stands, FMA feels it is unfair for a first offense to result in termination without a review of actions. Our experience has shown most Hatch Act violations are unintentional, and the vast majority of federal employees are not inclined to fervently use their position within the federal government for political gain.
H.R. 4152 changes the penalty structure to allow for alternative consequences for initial offenses, prior to termination. The legislation states, “an employee or individual who violates section 7323 or 7324 shall be subject to removal, reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for a period not to exceed five years, suspension, reprimand, or an assessment of a civil penalty not to exceed $1,000.” This language is more in tune with other disciplinary actions pertaining to the federal workforce and allows for the thorough consideration of Hatch Act violations before a penalty is issued.
S. 2170 – The Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012
In conjuncture with H.R. 4152, the Senate introduced companion reform legislation, S. 2170. This bipartisan legislation calls for the same changes as the House bill. FMA is encouraged Hatch Act reform is receiving bicameral, bipartisan support. The House and Senate bill are positive steps towards creating a supportive work environment for federal employees to become politically engaged. FMA feels politically-minded federal workers are more engaged and take pride in their work and can better serve their agencies and the citizens they serve.
Office of Special Counsel Recommendations
In October 2011, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released recommendations for changes to the Hatch Act. OSC called for reform to penalties for violating the Hatch Act with language identical to that used in both H.R. 4152 and S. 2170. FMA appreciates OSC for recognizing the discrepancy between the violation and the punishment. The changes OSC calls for better reflect the state of the federal workforce and work to update this seventy-three year-old law.
FMA Recommendations for Reform
The Federal Managers Association is pleased with the legislation the House and Senate have introduced, calling for overdue reforms to the Hatch Act. FMA is further pleased the legislation in both chambers is reflective of the recommendations made by the Office of Special Counsel.
Penalties for violating the Hatch Act should be dependent on the situation, not an automatic or mandatory removal for everyone. Making termination the only penalty possible is unreasonable, given the wide range of possible offenses under the Hatch Act; a one-size fits all penalty is rarely a truly effective one. There is no justice in a sweeping, mandatory removal policy across the federal workforce. FMA further recommends that OSC build a review process to ensure a consistent application of penalties for those found guilty of misusing their positions within government. The OSC should review violations on a case-by-case basis in order to promote a fair justice process, as well as accountability within the federal government.
FMA strongly supports this reform legislation of the Hatch Act and is pleased that this reform is promoted by all political parties and both houses of Congress. Automatic removal for a first offense does not reasonably weigh the severity of the violation. The Hatch Act has not been reformed in almost twenty years. It is time to examine and modify penalties of the Act, to distinguish between those who mistakenly violate the Act and those who knowingly take advantage of their position within government. FMA stands ready to work with the Subcommittee and other Members of Congress to affect common sense Hatch Act reforms.