Luján Introduces Legislation to Increase Hatch Act Enforcement, Transparency, and Accountability
Washington D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) introduced the Hatch Act Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Act, legislation that increases fairness and impartiality of the Hatch Act by informing Congress of potential violations. Enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act serves to ensure the federal government administers its duties in a nonpartisan fashion, protects federal employees from political pressure, and helps ensure that federal employees are promoted based on merit rather than political affiliation.
For alleged violations of the Hatch Act, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is authorized to investigate and prosecute violations before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). In recent years however, OSC’s enforcement has been inconsistent. In fact, OSC revealed to news media that, in one four-year period, 17 political appointees violated the Hatch Act, yet the office only penalized one, raising serious questions about the enforcement of the Hatch Act.
Senator Luján’s legislation increases transparency by requiring the OSC to notify Congressional leaders when it declines to investigate allegations and requires an annual report that details whether alleged violations were investigated or not.
“The Hatch Act was signed into law to prevent public officials from using their position for political gain while protecting federal employees from political influence. However, when potential violations do occur, the Office of Special Counsel has failed to investigate and prosecute some of the most serious claims, undermining the American people and the rule of law,” said Senator Luján. “Today, I’m introducing legislation that increases enforcement of the Hatch Act by providing clarity and Congressional oversight for any potential abuses. It’s unacceptable when the line between politics and government is ignored. That’s why my legislation increases accountability to ensure Americans can have confidence in the public servants who work for them.”
This legislation is endorsed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and End Citizens United.
“The Hatch Act is a crucial piece of legislation that sets important standards for federal employees’ political activities. But without meaningful enforcement, its impact is diminished,” said End Citizens United // Let America Vote Action Fund President Tiffany Muller. “The Hatch Act Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Act seeks to address this glaring weakness by strengthening oversight and increasing transparency from the Office of Special Counsel. It’s a much-needed step towards ensuring violations are met with appropriate consequences, promoting greater accountability, and upholding the integrity of our democratic institutions. We thank Senator Luján for his continued leadership and commitment to strengthening our democracy–and we urge both chambers of Congress to quickly pass it.”
“During the last administration, we saw political appointees flagrantly violate the Hatch Act on multiple occasions without any consequence. While the current administration has had fewer senior level violations to date, OSC’s decision making has remained cloaked in mystery. It is time to bring transparency into this process to ensure that these enforcement decisions are being made on a sound and consistent legal basis,” said Donald Sherman, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). “The Hatch Act Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Act would help the public and Congress understand how and why higher level appointees, including White House personnel are held accountable for violations of the law. And it would begin the process of dismantling the current two-tiered system, where those with the most power are subject to the least accountability. CREW applauds Sen. Luján for his commitment to this issue and strongly endorses the Hatch Act Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Act.”
“The Office of Special Counsel is in desperate need of greater transparency, and this bill would provide that. This legislation will make sure OGE is truly holding both career officials and political appointees accountable when they violate the law and ensure our elections are protected from interference,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Senior Government Affairs Manager, Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
Background: The Hatch Act Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Act strengthens the Hatch Act by requiring the OSC to notify Congress when it declines to initiate an investigation against a political appointee. This legislation also requires OSC to provide the Chair and Ranking Members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform (OGR) with a written report containing the complete basis for declining to conduct such investigations. It also instructs the OSC to provide the Chair and Ranking Members of HSGAC and OGR with an annual written report on the number of allegations received by the Special Counsel in the previous year and the number of allegations that resulted in an investigation, with separate data sets for political appointees and career federal workers.