Senate Supports Measure to Reform Hatch Act, Soften Penalties


The U.S. Senate Friday unanimously passed the 2012 Hatch Act Modernization Act, a measure to reform the Hatch Act for the first time in nearly 20 years. Among other key changes, the legislation lightens penalties for offenders and loosens restrictions for state and local employees seeking elected office.

This is a welcome development for a law that is well known as disproportionately harsh for the small violations that typically trigger an investigation. For example, something as small as forwarding a political email to a friend from a government computer is considered a violation. Currently, federal employees found to be in violation of the Act must be terminated unless they gain a unanimous decision by the MSPB to reduce the penalty.

Under the proposed legislation, much of the prohibitions on political activity will remain in place, but the government will have more expedient disciplinary options at their disposal, including fines, suspensions, and demotions. The bill also loosens restrictions on state and local employees whose positions are partially paid for with federal dollars. Whereas current law disallows them from seeking elected office, the reform would give them the ability to do so for the first time since its passage in 1939. Federal, state, and local employees whose positions are fully funded by federal dollars would still be subject that restriction, however.

“On balance, this is a great step forward for the federal workforce,” said Dougan. “This bipartisan, common sense legislation will restore reason to the process of disciplining political activity in the workplace. We thank Senator Akaka and Representative Cummings for their leadership on this issue.”

The 2012 Hatch Act Modernization must still be passed by the House of Representatives and signed by the President to become law.