Feds investigate other employees who mix politics and their jobs
WASHINGTON — Any employee can get in trouble for personal blogging on company time, but U.S. government workers, as one NASA employee has discovered, can get into a special kind of legal trouble if they also write about politics. They risk violating a 1939 law called the Hatch Act, which requires federal employees to keep their jobs and political activities separate.
A National Aeronautics and Space Administration employee was suspended for 180 days for “numerous” blog posts about politics, sending “partisan e-mails” and soliciting for political contributions, according to an announcement last week by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The employee wasn’t identified.
The intent of the Hatch Act is to prohibit “the use of the mechanism of government from influencing the outcome of an election,” said James Mitchell, an OSC spokesman. If a person is seeking money for candidates on company time and on company equipment, “that person might as well have been soliciting within the office,” he said.
The suspension was the result of agreement reached with NASA by the special counsel. The employee, whose suspension began March 30, could have been fired from his job.
The OSC is investigating similar cases at other agencies, Mitchell said. In some instances, the practice may be due to intra-office e-mails about particular candidates.
“We have a lot of cases open right now in this election year,” Mitchell said. The NASA case, which involved a midlevel employee at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, may be a defining one, he said.