WASHINGTON—John Gage, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), testified today before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to express concerns over inconsistencies in interpretation of the Hatch Act. AFGE believes that the appropriate application of the Hatch Act, which was designed to limit political activity of federal workers in the workplace, helps to preserve a politically neutral workplace while balancing the First Amendment rights of government workers.
At the same time, AFGE strongly urges Congress to exert its oversight role during the next election cycle to monitor Office of Special Counsel (OSC) Hatch Act investigations against federal workers for inconsistencies, disproportionate penalties for minor infractions and retaliation against union officials.
AFGE specifically contends that the Hatch Act’s policies regarding computer communications, penalties, and statute of limitations must be amended to reflect today’s ever-changing workplace environment.
“Federal workers have a right to participate in partisan political activities fully and freely, except when that participation impacts the integrity of a competitive civil service free from political influences.” said Gage. “The Supreme Court has held that actions to restrict the right of government employees to be politically active must be limited and must rest upon a clear showing by the government of a need for restriction, and that such restrictions be clearly defined and narrowly tailored to address only that particular need.”
The Hatch Act was passed in 1939 with the intention of ensuring that the federal civil service would be politically neutral and the spoils system would be eliminated. It is also important to note that the Hatch Act also serves to protect civic participation of federal workers, including the right to register and vote for the candidate of their choice; run as candidates for public offices in nonpartisan elections; assist in voter registration drives; contribute money to, and engage in, fundraising for political organizations or candidates; attend political fundraising functions; and express opinions about candidates and issues.