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The updated encyclopedia now offers 133 pages of examples of actual violations by Government personnel. The encyclopedia is organized by type of violations, including conflicts of interest, misuse of Government equipment, violations of post-employment restrictions, and travel. It is a valuable resource document for training and briefing personnel. The ability to cite real situations and their disciplinary resolution is an excellent tool to make a point for even those employees that think it unnecessary and enjoy voicing their negative sentiment about the need for training. For those already familiar with the encyclopedia, we have also posted an "updates only" version that includes 23 pages of recent cases.
The Deputy Secretary of Defense modified the policy requiring higher headquarters approval of fees over $500.00 paid by Department of Defense organizations for individuals to conduct speeches, lectures, and presentations. The new threshold is $2000.00. Each organization should still adhere to the intent of the policy that organizations ensure that payment is commensurate with the speaker's expertise and in compliance with fiscal and ethics regulations
A recent Secretary of Defense memorandum allows military personnel wounded in combat and being treated in a medical facility to use excess seats on military aircraft in CONUS supporting DoD senior officials travel. TDY/TAD travelers are manifested as "space required" passengers, while those on leave receive space-available priority status. Family members accompanying the wounded warriors may also be offered available seats.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act, a law governing civilian political activities, recently highlighted four recent unanimous decisions by the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) concerning Federal employees using Government email to engage in prohibited political activities.
The decisions by the MSPB demonstrate that using government email to circulate partisan political messages may violate the Hatch Act's prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a Federal building.
In each of the four cases, the employee raised the defense that their conduct was mere expression of opinion and no different from discussions by Federal personnel by the water cooler. In each case, the defendant lost.
The four MSPB decisions are highlighted below.
In Special Counsel v. Morrill, the Federal employee sent an email to over 300 individuals with an attached announcement for a "Halloween party for Tim Holden," a U.S. Representative seeking re-election. It was found that the message described the candidate in highly favorable terms and strongly encouraged attendance at the event, and that the email was "obviously directed toward the success of Mr. Holden's re-election campaign." The employee was suspended from work for sixty days.
In Special Counsel v. Davis, two Federal employees sent partisan political emails while they were on duty and/or in a Federal building. The first email in question contained a widely-circulated picture of President George W. Bush in front of an American flag with the statement, "I Vote the Bible." The text of the email contained several statements in support of President Bush, a negative statement about Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry, and a statement urging recipients to "Pass along the 'I Vote the Bible' button." The second email contained the subject line, "Why I am supporting John Kerry for President" and it presented a letter that purported to be written by John Eisenhower, son of former President Eisenhower. The email contained several reasons why the reader should vote for Presidential candidate John Kerry and why the reader should not support the Republican Party.
On August 9, 2006, the MSPB ordered the removal from Federal service of a Small Business Administration employee for having engaged in partisan political activity while on duty. Specifically, it was found that over a three-year period the Federal employee, an elected official of the California Green Party, received, read, drafted or sent more than 100 emails through his government computer that were directed toward the success of the Green Party. The extensive emails concerned such politically charged issues as party fundraising opportunities, outreach and recruitment plans, internal drafts of various party platforms, and the planning of a state-wide Green Party political convention. The MSPB unanimously found that the penalty of removal was warranted in this case.
On December 14, 2006, the MSPB held that an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Hatch Act when he sent a partisan political email message while on duty and in the Federal workplace. The MSPB found that the employee, while on duty and in a Federal building, engaged in prohibited political activity by forwarding, via his government e-mail system, a letter from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that urged its recipients to take immediate action after the Presidential debate in support of then-Presidential candidate John Kerry.
Bottom Line: The Hatch Act prohibits Federal civilian employees from sending e-mails, while on duty or in a Federal building, that advocate for a political party or candidate for partisan public office. Engaging in such activity may subject them to disciplinary action, including the loss of their job. As the head of the OSC notes, "No partisan political activity means no partisan political activity, regardless of the specific technology used."
DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this advisory is to disseminate relevant information and sources of general guidance, policy and law on Government Ethics issues to the Department of Defense ethics community. Advisories are not intended to be and should not be cited as authoritative guidance, DoD policy, or law.