Hatch Act Refresher

While Americans in the private sector may not have an issue getting involved with Democrats Abroad, for those employed by the US government, the details can be a bit less clear. This is, at least in part, due to the Hatch Act.

The Bottom Line Up Front: There are plenty of political activities that federal employees can still take part in, as long as they do not take their politics to the office. Specific questions about political activities can be directed to the agency’s legal counsel or the U.S. Office Of Special Counsel.

The Hatch Act, officially An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, limits certain political activities of federal employees, as well as those of other government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. ​The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.

What the Hatch Act means for Civilian Federal Employees

Federal employees may:

  • Register and vote as they choose
  • Assist in voter registration drives
  • Express opinions about candidates and issues
  • Participate in campaigns where none of the candidates represent a political party
  • Contribute money to political organizations or attend political fundraising functions
  • Attend political rallies and meetings
  • Join political clubs or parties
  • Sign nominating petitions
  • Campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances

Federal employees may not:

  • Be candidates for public office in partisan elections
  • Campaign for or against a candidate or slate of candidates in partisan elections
  • Make campaign speeches
  • Collect contributions or sell tickets to political fundraising functions
  • Distribute campaign material in partisan elections
  • Organize or manage political rallies or meetings
  • Hold office in political clubs or parties
  • Circulate nominating petitions
  • Work to register voters for one party only (Registering voters via VoteFromAbroad.org would *not* be prohibited as it is a non-partisan tool that helps all Americans register to vote from abroad, regardless of party).
  • Wear political buttons, t-shirts or similar items at work

U.S. Office Of Special Counsel created this short video on the basics of the Hatch Act: 

As well as a second video from 2016 with extensive details, further information and examples:

What the Hatch Act means for Government Contractors

These restrictions apply only to DoD personnel and do not apply to contractor employees. Therefore, there is no Federal prohibition on contractor employees engaging in political activity, such as displaying signs or actively campaigning in the Government workplace. However, there are probably regulations in the specific agency or similar language in an employment contract that mirrors the Hatch Act. It is probably best to adhere to the rules of Federal employees, though specific questions about political activity can be directed to the agency’s or employer’s legal counsel.

What the Hatch Act means for Military Service Members

The Hatch Act does not apply to actively serving uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces, although it does apply to Department of Defense civil servants, as well as Department of Homeland Security civil servants in direct support of the United States Coast Guard. Uniformed personnel are subject to Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 (DoDD 1344.10), Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces, and the spirit and intent of that directive is effectively the same as that of the Hatch Act for Federal civil servants. By agreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security, DoDD 1344.10 also applies to uniformed personnel of the Coast Guard at all times, whether it is operating as a service in the Department of Homeland Security or as part of the Navy under the Department of Defense. Those with questions about their political activities can ask their agency legal counsel or the U.S. Office Of Special Counsel, who can help ensure laws and regulations are not violated.