Two decades later, lawmakers move to revise Hatch Act

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., says the bill makes common-sense changes. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., says the bill makes common-sense changes. Alex Brandon/AP

For nearly 20 years the Hatch Act, a law forbidding federal employees from participating in partisan political activity, has gone unchanged. Now a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers is seeking to remedy that.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., introduced legislation Wednesday that would update the law, partly by limiting its jurisdiction over state and local government employees and allowing them to run for partisan elective office. The 2012 Hatch Act Modernization Act -- co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Mike Lee, R-Utah -- would mark the first change to the law since it was last amended in 1993.

The bill also would give the Merit Systems Protection Board greater flexibility to issue a range of penalties for Hatch Act violators. Currently, the only approved punishment is termination, which can be mitigated to a 30-day suspension by unanimous approval of all three Merit Systems Protection Board members.

“These are common-sense changes that will clarify the law and make it easier to enforce,” said Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “State and local employees, such as police officers, should not be banned from running for public office, and there should be punishments less severe than firing for minor violations.”

The Office of Special Counsel, which handles investigations of Hatch Act violations, recommended similar reforms to Congress in October 2011. OSC praised the legislation’s bipartisan, bicameral support in a release Wednesday.

“We are pleased, very pleased, with what this bill does,” OSC spokeswoman Ann O’Hanlon told Government Executive. “We asked Congress to please take a look at this antiquated law and propose amendments to it, and they have, so we’re delighted.”

OSC’s Hatch Act caseload has more than quintupled during the past decade, from 98 reported violations in 2000 to 526 in 2010, according to O’Hanlon, who said the dispute resolution staff is “completely underwater” with casework. The law in its current form has resulted in instances such as a Pennsylvania police officer in a K-9 unit who was told he couldn’t run for his local school board because he received some funds from the Homeland Security Department for his dog.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.