All DoD personnel - military and civilian - should be mindful of the various limitations that exist when it comes to participation in political activity, particularly during an election year. A quick summary of the rules and links to substantive guidance are provided below.
Guidance for Civilian Employees: For DoD civilians, participation in political activity is regulated by a number of sources: the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321 - 7326), implementing regulations (5 C.F. R. § 733 and 5 C.F.R. § 734), as well as DoD policy. For purposes of the Hatch Act, political activity is defined as "an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group". Because application of the rules may vary depending on an employee's position or office, it is extremely important that employees who are considering engaging in political activity know which rules apply.
With regard to civilian employees, there are two sets of restrictions for three groups of employees. The first and more restrictive set of restrictions applies to: (1) individuals appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate and individuals serving in non-career SES positions; and (2) career members of the SES, contract appeals board members, and all employees of the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the National Geo-Spatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The second and more lenient set of restrictions applies to all other employees (including Schedule C political appointees).
Employees in Groups 1 and 2 are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management or political campaigns and are referred to as "further restricted" employees.
Guidance for Military Personnel: The primary guidance concerning political activity for military members is found in DoD Directive 1344.10 [Guidance for Military Personnel]. Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause. Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. Active duty members may, however, express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events as a spectator when not in uniform. The DoD Office of Legal Policy is the primary POC for questions regarding political activity for military members. For more information, please call 703-697-3387.