Hatch Act Reform--Unresolved Questions

FPCD-79-55: Published: Jul 24, 1979. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1979.

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The number of employees subject to the Hatch Act is about 5.1 million, which would include 2.8 million federal employees and 2.3 million state/local employees. Since enactment of the Hatch Act in 1939, legislation to reduce the restrictions on political activity has been introduced in every Congress. Generally, this legislation would have reduced the restriction on partisan political activity by individuals on their own time, while increasing prohibitions on the misuse of official authority.

Both the 94th and 95th Congresses conducted extensive hearings in consideration of legislation to remove the Hatch Act restrictions. Testimony presented to Congress reveals two distinct and opposing opinions over revision of the Hatch Act. Support for Hatch Act reform comes primarily from government labor unions and such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union. Opposition to Hatch Act reform comes primarily from newspaper editorials and groups like Common Cause. Since Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act, an independent Special Counsel to the Merit Systems Protection Board has authority for enforcing the Hatch Act. The Office of General Counsel in the old Civil Service Commission had the authority to investigate and prosecute Hatch Act violations and adverse personnel actions. This group of about 19 people has been assigned to the Special Counsel. Only a few complaints were received from 1974 to 1978, and this is thought to be due to the following factors: (1) the political restrictions on federal employees are well known and peer pressure tends to reduce the number of violations; (2) natural reluctance to report a fellow employee or a superior because of fear of reprisal; and (3) many cases probably go unreported each year.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: During its deliberation on any proposed legislation to revise the Hatch Act, Congress should consider the following: (1) the impact of the recently passed Civil Service Reform Act of 1978; (2) the inability of the Special Council as it is currently structured to adequately enforce a revised Hatch Act; (3) the need to include some form of protection from outside groups with any safeguards established to protect federal employees from coercion by management; (4) the difficulty in identifying the more subtle forms of coercion, such as the withholding of awards or favors; (5) the likelihood that the elimination of restrictions on political activity could increase the potential for conflict-of-interest situations to develop; (6) the fact that the opinions of federal employees concerning the matter have not been given recent consideration; and (7) the effect of the apparent trend of state legislatures to remove restrictions on political activity.


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