Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Would Permit Bigger Political Roles for US Civil Servants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Would Permit Bigger Political Roles for US Civil Servants

Article excerpt

LET'S say you're a federal employee, and you support Fred Roe, a candidate for Congress.

Under current law, you may contribute as much as $1,000 to Mr. Roe's campaign, and you may wear a button around the office touting him, and you may plaster your house, lawn, and car with posters for him.

But, if you're short on cash, you may not donate your time by stuffing envelopes for him. And though you may attend a rally for Roe, you may not carry a sign at the rally on his behalf.

These are the kind of inconsistencies that Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio wants to correct as lead sponsor of a bill under debate in the Senate this week that would revise the Hatch Act, a 54-year-old law restricting the political actions of the nation's 3 million civil servants.

"The regulations are complicated. We agree they could be clarified," says Meredith McGehee, senior lobbyist for the advocacy group Common Cause. "But {the bill} gets rid of the guts of the Act." She cites provisions of the bill that would do the following: permit federal employees to hold office in a political party, allow them to raise campaign contributions from colleagues, and allow them to run political-action committees.

Ms. McGehee argues that, even with mechanisms to help prevent overt political coercion of employees by colleagues who have power over their career progress, the bill does not protect against "implicit coercion."

SENATOR Glenn sees it as a question of free speech - as long as the employee is engaging in after-hours political activity and not as a representative of the government.

"Federal employees should not be treated like second-class citizens and be forced to forfeit their constitutional rights when they opt for careers in public service," Glenn said on the Senate floor last Tuesday. Under his bill, he said, the wearing of political buttons would no longer be allowed on the job.

Congress has been trying to revise the Hatch Act for years, but has been thwarted by presidents concerned that a politicized civil service could strike back at the executive branch. …

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