Government Employees Could Be Fired For A Hobby

Federal employees could be fired for blogging about politics with their personal computers, on their own time, Stephen Barr reports:

Blogging about politics at work falls into the don't-do category, but
blogging from home may also get a federal employee in trouble.

Presidential campaign Web sites, for example, encourage supporters
to create blogs on the site to advocate the candidate's positions. They
also usually carry a link for campaign donations, and that can be
trouble for a federal employee, even when using a home computer. The
OSC may view the donate button as soliciting for political
contributions, another no-no under the Hatch Act, and set off an
investigation. [WaPo]

This passage is part of a longer story about how the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has decided crack down on political activities of federal employees in advance of the election.

The Hatch Act restricts the political activities of federal, state, and local government officials. The rules are very complicated. Presidential employees confirmed by the senate can even engage in political activities on government time, in government facilities, as long as these aren't paid for with government money. However, appointees must not compel their subordinates to play along. 

Since the beginning of the Bush administration, the definition of electioneering has been very narrowly indeed, at least when it comes to Republicans helping Republicans. Karl Rove was allowed to make the rounds of 20 federal agencies, delivering regular PowerPoint presentations about how bureaucrats could help get Republicans elected. This went on for years. In fairness the OSC did investigate some of these allegations, but neither Rove nor the senior government employees who participated in these briefings has been sanctioned.

The highest-profile targets for Hatch investigation, Rove, Ken Mehlman, and Scott Jennings, all resigned before any action was taken. Proximately, Jennings was a casualty of the U.S. Attorney scandal. It's not clear how much influence the Hatch Act investigations by OSC and Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight Committee had on the timing of Rove's exit.

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