Midway through Tomas Strouhal’s daily mail route, a higher-up from the U.S. Postal Service pulled up behind him with some bad news: That Donald Trump bumper sticker on his personal car parked back at the post office had to go.
“He said I just need to remove it and that I could face being fired, that I can’t have anything political at work,” Strouhal recalled. The 23-year-old Trump supporter agreed to take it down.
Americans have no shortage of strong feelings about this year’s topsy-turvy presidential race. But here’s a warning for the nearly 3 million people who work for the federal government: Be careful what you say and do — and where you do it.
A complex web of restrictions limits political activity by government workers, especially when they’re on the clock. Not all the rules are obvious, and they vary widely for different types of employees.
In Strouhal’s case, it turned out the supervisor was wrong. Strouhal and other postal workers are entitled to one political bumper sticker on their personal car even if they park at work, an exception to the rules that illustrates the challenge for federal employees who want to express their views but are wary of running afoul of the law.
“My first thought was that they violated my First Amendment rights,” Strouhal said. “It’s almost like they were discriminating in a way, too, because a lot of people don’t like Trump.”
As the presidential campaign heats up, agencies from the White House to the U.S. Postal Service are trying to educate workers about what they can and can’t do without violating a relatively obscure law known as the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal law enforcement agency, says requests for training at all levels of government are surging.
Among the questions that federal employees have posed this year: Can I put Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan in my work email signature? Can I wear my “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hat, popularized by comedian John Oliver, at the office? What about retweeting the presumptive GOP nominee’s flashy tweets from my iPhone when the work day gets slow?
“It’s not just questions about Donald Trump,” said Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the office’s Hatch Act Unit. “I’ve had people want to know what they can do with respect to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And the answer is the same for all of them.”
Under the Hatch Act, government employees can’t engage in political activity while they’re on duty or in their office or work vehicle, with few exceptions. In their private time, they’re free to advocate for candidates, donate money, even speak at a rally or fundraiser, as long as they don’t mention their official titles. They can’t solicit or collect donations from others, even on their own time.
The rules cover all workers who fall under the executive branch, but not to active duty military members or people who work for Congress or the courts.
The limitations get even more confusing at the higher levels of government. Most workers fall under the “less restricted” category, but some, including those who work for the FBI, the CIA and parts of the Justice Department, are “further restricted,” which comes with rules of its own.
Two government workers get a free pass: the president and the vice president, who have inherently political roles and can engage openly in political activity. At the White House, a handful of aides are permitted to work on the logistics like scheduling and travel arrangements to facilitate the president’s campaign appearances and other political activity.
Yet the rules can be tricky for prominent officials like Cabinet secretaries, who are sometimes called upon to campaign for their party’s candidates and are often asked about politics when they appear in public.
“An individual or Cabinet secretary needs to make very, very clear with the campaign or the committee that if they engage, they are engaging in their personal capacity, that their official function or title isn’t going to be something that is used,” said David Simas, the White House political director. “That’s the key distinction.”
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was found to have violated the Hatch Act in 2012 when she made an off-hand remark at a gay rights group’s gala about who should be North Carolina’s next governor. And Secretary of State John Kerry, answering questions at Oxford University, had to demur last month when a student quizzed him on Trump.
“I’m not allowed under our law to get into, actually full-throatedly, into the middle of the campaign,” Kerry said before moving on to another topic.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
This is Discrimination if I have ever saw it. I don’t understand why? I am sorry Government but you are walking on their Constitutional rights.
I guess Lois Lerner targeting conservative groups violated this law also. Why did she not get punished for it? Because it was supporting Obama that’s why.
Stash Holly says
This country is headed for a major CIVIL WAR. With American’s being told how they must vote or you loose your rights. Children as young being attacked and Bullied by kids and teachers, adults threaten to loose there income. HOW are we any different than a Banana Republic? How are we any different than CHINA, RUSSIA (Putin who we say doesn’t allow a fair election, Like we DO?) or Any Muslim Nation. We Have LOST Our Rights and at some point our kids will wonder where they went wrong and only a WAR will right the wrong LIBERALS have committed. When the blood flows, it’s not the guns, it’s YOU!
They want to take guns away from we the people so we can not overtake are crooked ass government. Go Trump
Bert W. Shaw says
Typical commie, I mean demo-crap, play book tactics< the trouble is that these sheeple ( useful idiots ) are to STUPID to figure it out. AS long as they are getting their food stamp ect. ect. they will do as they are told.
A revolt will be on the horizon, NOBODY will tell me who i can vote for or support, they can all go soak heads…. that is what’s wrong with America and Mr. Trump is going to put a STOP TO IT…… the libetards just want to control us all….. go straight to hell…
Robert Petersen says
I see a potential revolt–a violent one if necessary. Better back of libbies before you lose all of your recent “gains”…just sayin’.
THIS GOVERNMENT IS AFRAID OF TRUMP.
!!!!! THEY KNOW A MAJORITY OF THEM WILL B DUMPED..AND THEIR “GOLDEN FLEECE” WILL B TAKEN AWAY…WHY SHOULD THEY RETIRE ON WHAT THEY R MAKING NOW FOR DOING NOTHING..ITS THE SAME THING..THEY DO NOTHING FOR U SO WE WILL DUMP THEM…WE NEED PEOPLE WITH A BACKBONE…NOT WIMPY WUSSIES LIKE CRUZ , GAY OBAMA AND BI HILLERY…THEY R OUT TO KILL US OFF..WHY DID GAY OBAMA ORDER 300M BODY BAGS ???…BODY BAGS..NOT GARBAGE BAGS !!!! THEIR ISIS FRIENDS WILL KILL US EASIER WITHOUT GUNS..BUT WE R ARMED AND READY..ABOUT 20 OR MORE R SLEEPIN WITH THE FISH ALREADY..
their worst nightmare says
Can we use the libatards as human shields?
Barry cromer says
When will the Democrat voter realize just how engulfed in a slave (beaurocratic) state they help create with their narrow minded vote? I’m always appalled at when asked why they vote “democrat”, they generally respond because my family always voted democrat. Sad isn’t it? Hope their seeing eye dog is healthy.
The Hatch Act applies to all govt employees. including elected ones and appointed ones like judges. Even the prez and congress types are not supposed to use govt resources for personal gain. After all, they are all just govt employees that got their job by offering themselves up for election. Instead of having to fill out an application listing their experience, education and other personal data, By ti’s very nature govt is a political operation thus might be hard to keep PC from soiling their nests.
The top level employees have some specific duties and responsibilities listed in the Constitution and other laws and even procedures on how to conduct govt obligations such as legislating, hearing judicial matters and implementing the laws, but not making laws by either the executive branch or the SC. IMO our elected officials, especially the dims, have been operating under political party boss/rules instead of following the law.. Mostly in the name of PC rather then CC, Constitutionally Correct and has slipped into a new PC, Political Corruption. And a guy on TV a couple of months ago commented thus: We never hear what is in the Constitution, only what the lawyers say is in it. The perfect storm because of this is the so called separation criteria. This does not exist. What exists is the state cannot establish a state religion. Even the religion of no religion. Separation means the govt and govt lawyers and attack lawyer groups get to decide who, what, why, when and where is separated fro the govt. Non-establishment means the govt is prohibited from supporting, funding, protecting a religion. This is unlike islam which is the state religion and more in islamic nations. Personally i do not want the govt supporting my church because sooner rather then later they will claim they have the right to tell me and other what i have to think about God, Creation, evolution. And even make me pay for someone’s else’s sexual escapades by funding abortions. Funding abortions, food stamps, HC, welfare must be illegal under the Hatch Act since they are typically patronage programs to attract voters to their political party. And endless deficits are likewise Hatch Act no-nos because they too benefit elected officials and keeps them from having to actually consider which budget expenditures are to enable the govt to perform it’s legal duties. Which does not include granting the right to get married to selected groups. And maybe a thousand other flaky budget items. And I wonder where the budget went? Is this part of the most open admin in history claimed by O? He also claimed you can keep your dr under obama care. I think what he really meant was the workers would have to pay enough to cover the cost of free HC for 32 million uninsured including illegal immigrants and islamic agents called refugees?
Is O capable of governing the nation now, or does he need to resign?
The USPS is UNIONIZED, ANY dissent or opinions for other than the UNION supported candidate, HILLARY ROTTEN CLINTON, would be harshy criticised. (and most likely punished)
The unions operate on the Sol Alynski rules. (for radicals)
Hey, can anyone tell me why OBummer can use Air force One when he campaigns for the Witch of the America?
I resent having my tax dollars to pay millions for this escapade.
B;ids in Brookridge says
I’m not a Trump fan but I cannot vote for Hillary or Bernie either. Hillary and Bernie will continue to grow government until the majority of Americans working will be Government employees. If you think it’s bad now, wait till that happens. I’m doing a write-in for Newt.
You are the only one that has said anything that makes sense. We have no one to vote for. US is going to hell in a hand basket.
Rosalind Rogoff says
Better than Newt, vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. Johnson isn’t a write in. He is a legit candidate for a major third party. With the dissatisfaction between Trump and Hillary, Johnson has a real chance of winning. There’s a good possibility that the Republican Party will be able to dump Drumph at the Convention and nominate a real conservative with real Presidential abilities. I hope they consider endorsing Johnson, who was a two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico.
Ms. Travis Petty says
If people waste their vote Hillery will win.
peewee henson says
AND THE POLITICALLY CONNECTED WONDER WHY PEOPLE GO POSTAL.
The USPS would vote Democrat even if Bin Ladin was running. It’s been that way for years.
I personally know of several ex-Obama supporters who say they are voting for Trump and will NOT support Crooked Hillary.
Jefferson Davis said the South would come back, we just didn’t in what form. It is time.
Stephen Russell says
Censorship, deny public free speech now among Govt employees.
El Tejas says
On a different tact; regardless of any threats or intimidation, once you enter that voting booth no one knows haw you voted unless you choose to share that information with them.