By DCMA Public Affairs
It’s September in a national election year, and the internet and airwaves are increasingly filled with the sound of politics. This presents a challenge for federal employees, who must navigate carefully when joining in the discourse.
“Defense Contract Management Agency employees are encouraged to participate in the political process, but they need to do so in a manner consistent with law and regulation,” said Matthew Ruzicka, DCMA senior associate general counsel.
The federal government and Department of Defense have well-defined policies to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political campaign or cause. In order to protect the integrity of the civil service system, the Hatch Act and DoD Directive 1344.10 impose limitations on political activity by federal executive branch employees and military service members, respectively. While these regulations are always in effect, they become paramount each fall as election day nears, and are thrust to the forefront every four years with national elections.
This year presents added challenges. Like much of the federal government, DCMA employees have shifted largely to telework over the past six months as part of the whole-of-government approach to COVID-19, bringing added nuance to the difference between “work” and “home.”
“Over the past few years, additional guidance has been issued to address social media,” said Ruzicka. “This includes not engaging in political activity ‘while on duty or in the workplace.’ For most, the workplace is now at home, so we need to be thoughtful about clearly separating our personal and professional activity.”
The Office of Special Counsel has a comprehensive site discussing all aspects of the Hatch Act, including the use of social media. Frequently asked questions from the OSC site are included following this article.
Ruzicka said regardless of regulations like the Hatch Act, employees have an ethical responsibility to behave in a manner conducive to DCMA mission success.
“We all need to remember that even if something is specifically allowed under the Hatch Act, it may not be conducive to a productive workplace,” said Ruzicka. “Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward wisely said ‘Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do, and what is the right thing to do.’ Employees should carefully weigh the potential effects of political discussions or activities, and consider how they may affect a team’s ability to get their work done effectively.”
The DCMA General Counsel has ethics counselors assigned to each of the agency’s regions and directorates, available to answer employee questions regarding the Hatch Act or other ethical issues. Employees can visit the General Counsel 360 ethics page (login required) for details.
GENERAL GUIDANCE FOR DCMA EMPLOYEES
PERMITTED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
1. Under DoD Directive 1344.10, a member of the Armed Forces on active duty may:
• Register, vote, and express personal opinions on political candidates and public issues;
• Encourage other military members to exercise voting rights;
• Join a political club (even if partisan) and attend political meetings when not in uniform;
• Sign petitions for specific legislative action or to place a candidate's name on the ballot;
• Write letters to the editor expressing personal views (so long as not part of organized letter writing campaign or solicitation of votes for or against a political party or partisan political cause or candidate);
• Make permissible monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee;
• Display a bumper sticker on a member's private vehicle; and
• Attend a partisan or nonpartisan political fundraising activity, meeting, rally, debate, convention, or activity when not in uniform and when no appearance of sponsorship or endorsement can reasonably be drawn.
2. Less Restricted (below the SES level) civilian Executive Branch employees fall under the Hatch Act and can do everything listed above for a member of the Armed Forces on active duty as well as the following activities:
• Volunteer to work on a partisan campaign, and go door to door with the candidate and distribute campaign literature;
• Write speeches for a candidate and attend and be active at political rallies and meetings;
• Join and hold office in a political party or political organization;
• Endorse a candidate for partisan political office in a political advertisement (may not use DoD title);
• Organize and work at a fundraising event (no soliciting or collecting money); and
• Serve as a delegate to a state, local or national political party convention and work to get out the vote on Election Day.
PROHIBITED POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
1. Member of the Armed Forces on active duty may not:
• Participate in partisan political fundraising activities, rallies, conventions, management of campaigns, or debates. The prohibition is broad and does not depend on whether a member is in uniform;
• Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others;
• Publish partisan political articles or letters soliciting votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause;
• Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause;
• Serve in official capacity/sponsor a partisan political club;
• Conduct a political opinion survey or distribute political literature;
• Speak before a partisan political gathering;
• Work for a political committee or candidate during a campaign, on election day, or while closing out a campaign;
• Engage in fundraising activity for any political candidate ... in Federal offices, facilities, or on military reservations;
• March or ride in partisan parades;
• Participate in organized efforts to provide voters transportation to polling places if associated with a political party;
• Sell tickets for or actively promote partisan political dinners and similar fundraising events;
• Make a campaign contribution to or receive or solicit a campaign contribution from any other member of the Armed Forces on active duty; or
• Display a partisan political sign visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation.
2. Prohibited political activities applicable to all DoD civilian employees.
• Use their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election; including coercing subordinates to participate in political activity, using one's official title while participating in political activity; using agency social media for political purposes;
• Personally solicit, accept or receiving a political contribution from any person, including hosting or serving as a POC for a fundraising event for a political party or candidate for partisan political office, signing a solicitation letter, collecting money at a fundraising event, soliciting donations through a phone bank;
• Run for the nomination or as a candidate for election to a partisan political office (an election where candidates are running with party affiliation, usually as Democrats or Republicans);
• Participate in political activity while on duty or in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an individual employed by DoD;
• Engage in political activity while wearing a uniform or official insignia identifying the office or position of the DoD employee;
• Engage in political activity while using any vehicle owned or leased by the government of the United States or any agency or instrumentality thereof;
• Solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of any person who has an application for any compensation, grant, contract, ruling, license, permit, or certificate pending before the employee's office; or
• Solicit or discourage the participation in any political activity of any person who is the subject of or a participant in an ongoing audit, investigation, or enforcement action being carried out by the employee's office.
HATCH Act and social media (applicable to civilian employees)
• May not tweet, retweet, share, or like a post or content that solicits political contributions;
• May not engage in political activity via social media (email, blog, tweet, post) while on duty, or in a federal building (even when off-duty), even if using a personal device or email account, sharing or forwarding content authored by others, or forwarding to friends or like-minded coworkers;
• May not like or follow the social media page of a candidate or partisan group while on duty or in the workplace;
• May not use a social media account in your official capacity to engage in political activity.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE HATCH ACT FAQS
Courtesy of the Office of Special Counsel, https://osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct-FAQ.aspx
Q: If a federal employee has listed his official title or position on Facebook, may he also complete the “political views” field?
A: Yes. Simply identifying one’s political party affiliation on a social media profile, which also contains one’s official title or position, without more, is not an improper use of official authority.
Q: May a federal employee engage in political activity on Facebook or Twitter?
A: Yes, federal employees may express their opinions about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race (e.g., post, "like," "share," "tweet," "retweet"), but there are a few limitations. Specifically, the Hatch Act prohibits employees from:
Further restricted employees: Yes, further restricted federal employees also may express their opinions about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race (e.g., post, "like," "share," "tweet," "retweet"), but there are a few limitations. In addition to the limitations above, the Hatch Act prohibits further restricted employees from:
Q: May a federal employee engage in political activity on Facebook or Twitter if she is “friends” with or has “followers” who are subordinate employees?
A: Yes, but subject to the limitations described in other related questions and the following guidelines. If a supervisor’s statements about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race are directed at all of his Facebook friends or Twitter followers, e.g., posted on his Facebook page, then there is no Hatch Act violation. Such statements would be improper if the supervisor specifically directed them toward her subordinate employees, or to a subset of friends that includes subordinate employees. For example, a supervisor should not send to a subordinate employee a Facebook message or “tweet” that shows her support for a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race.
Q: What should an employee do if someone posts or “tweets” a message soliciting political contributions to a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, or a link to the political contribution page for such entities, on the employee’s social media page?
A: Although the Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from soliciting or receiving political contributions at any time, employees are not responsible for the statements of third parties, even when they appear on their social media page. Thus, if an individual posts a link to the political contribution page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, or otherwise solicits political contributions, the employee need not take any action. The same advice applies to any “tweets” directed at the employee. However, the employee should not “like,” “share,” or “retweet” the solicitation, or respond in any way that would tend to encourage other readers to contribute.
Q: May a federal employee become a “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the social media page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race?
A: Yes, but not while on duty or in the workplace.
Q: May a federal employee continue to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” an official social media page of a government official after he has become a candidate for reelection?
A: Yes. For example, a federal employee may continue to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the official Facebook, Twitter, or other social media page of the president or member of Congress, even after the president or member begins his reelection campaign.
Q: May a federal employee use an alias to “friend,” “like,” or “follow” the social media page of a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race?
A: Yes, but be advised that federal employees remain subject to the Hatch Act even when they act under an alias. Therefore, the advice provided in response to other questions applies regardless of whether or not the employee is acting under an alias.
Q: May a federal employee display a political party or campaign logo or candidate photograph as her cover or header photo on Facebook or Twitter?
A: Yes, federal employees may display a political party or campaign logo or candidate photograph as their cover or header photo on their personal Facebook or Twitter accounts. This display, usually featured at the top of one’s social media profile, without more, is not improper political activity.
Q: May a federal employee display a political party or campaign logo or a candidate photograph as his profile picture on Facebook or Twitter?
A: Yes, but subject to the following limitations. Because a profile picture accompanies most actions on social media, a federal employee would not be permitted, while on duty or in the workplace, to post, “share,” “tweet,” or “retweet” any items on Facebook or Twitter, because each such action would show their support for a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, even if the content of the action is not about those entities.
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