Hatch Act: Options for Reform
9:30am in 2247 RHOB
Subcommittee Chairman Ross Opening Statement
During my brief tenure as a member of Congress, I have seen how well-intentioned legislation can have unintended consequences when applied to the real world. This is certainly true with respect to the Hatch Act.
Originally enacted in 1939, the Hatch Act was needed to prevent an all too prevalent practice of federal employees engaging in partisan political activity using federal resources.
The Hatch Act was last amended in 1993, a year in which employees were becoming accustomed to e-mail for workplace communication and using other forms of electronic communication to share information with their colleagues.
Technology’s advance is only speeding up, and the Hatch Act is in need of an update.
Today’s hearing builds on the Committee’s June 2011 hearing, at which a bipartisan panel expressed support for making major changes in the Hatch Act statute. Furthermore, several bills have been introduced to repeal the Hatch Act’s over-reaching and arbitrary restrictions on state and local government workers who seek to run for office.
In short, there is a growing consensus that we should enact comprehensive Hatch Act reform. The federal government should not be in the business of making personnel policy for state and local government employees, and the Office of Special Counsel should not be dedicating as much of its resources as it now does to pursuing complaints concerning state and local elections. Rather, the OSC should be focused on cracking down on federal workers who abuse the public trust and on protecting those federal workers who are unfairly targeted by their managers for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse.
Instead, we should craft legislation that preserves the intent of the Hatch Act and reflects the realities of today’s workplace. Comprehensive reform should, for example, adopt a definition of “federal workplace,” that accounts for how federal employees communicate today – which is oftentimes out of the office, on the go, with personal electronic devices.
I think we all can agree that our nation’s public servants should be prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity. The Hatch Act has been largely successful at curbing overtly partisan politicking within the civil service. However, a fresh look is needed to address certain unforeseen challenges and unintended consequences. We will hear about some of those consequences today. And I hope we are able to enact changes that prevent them from recurring in the future.
I would like to thank Mr. Cummings for his work on this important issue and I look forward to working with him, Chairman Issa, and Mr. Lynch on moving Hatch Act reform legislation through the House of Representatives this Congress.
I thank the witnesses for appearing here today and look forward to your testimony.