There's a move underway on Capitol Hill to update the Hatch Act. That's the 1939 law that regulates political activity of government workers. At the federal level, it prevents most executive branch employees from running for partisan office or engaging in political activity while on the clock, but it also applies to some workers at the state and local levels. With the 2012 election cycle in full swing, some say the law is outdated and Congress needs to pass an update. Kellie Lunney, senior reporter at Government Executive, discusses the prospects. Here's some excerpts:
On legislation being considered that would change the penalties for workers who violate the Hatch Act:
"Those who are advocating reform believe that offering a broader range of penalties would result in more fairness and flexibility. So the legislation under consideration in both the House and Senate would allow for other forms of punishment including suspension and reprimand for those violating the act."
On the debate about how social media fits under the Hatch Act:
"The prevalence of working from home now, the use of Facebook, smartphones, Twitter have created this whole gray area in terms of what is and isn't appropriate. They've changed the definition of what constitutes the federal workplace... An employee could easily leave the building and send a phone call or an email for a political cause from his personal smart phone. The question becomes how do you enforce this part of the law, and is it even practical?"
On how the government is advising employees grappling with those questions:
"The Office of Special Counsel has released guidelines on its website about what is and isn't permissible, as they interpret it, under the Hatch Act as far as email and blogging and social networking is concerned. They have a whole section on their website that answers some frequently asked questions."
On D.C. Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's argument to exempt District government employees from this regulation:
"The change would increase the District's home rule authority, which Norton has pushed for every since she was elected. Currently, District employees are treated like federal executive branch employees under the law, so they face greater restrictions over political activity than do state and local employees in other jurisdictions. Norton has included language in the reform legislation that would remove D.C. employees from that federal Hatch Act component and instead treat them like other state and local employees."