Republican and Democratic members of Congress have thrown their support behind a bill introduced on Wednesday that would “modernize” the Hatch Act, the law regulating political activity by federal employees as well as state and local employees whose positions are federally funded.
The changes would allow state and local government employees who were covered by the Hatch Act to run for partisan elected office. It would also let the Merit Systems Protection Boarch, the agency which resolves complaints of Hatch Act violations, issue a range of penalties to those who are found to have used federal resources for partisan gain (currently, only termination is an option unless the board unanimously agrees to reduce the penalty).Government watchdogs were skeptical of the reforms mentioned by members of Congress when the issue was discussed last year.
“Past experience has shown that when Hill people talk about reform, they often seek to weaken it,” Meredith McGehee told TPM last June. McGehee, who worked on Hatch Act reform when she worked at Common Cause, said rank-and-file federal employees “take the Hatch Act quite seriously but get disheartened when they see the upper echelons and political appointees being active.”
The new legislation, titled the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012, would also ensure that “employees of the District of Columbia are subject to the same restrictions on political activity that currently apply to employees of all other state and local government agencies,” according to a press release. Th bill was introduced by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) in the Senate and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in the House. The Senate version was cosponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Mike Lee (R-UT).
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