The Office of Special Counsel said Thursday it had reached a settlement agreement with an Energy Department employee who had violated the Hatch Act.
As part of her settlement agreement, the employee agreed to violating the Hatch Act and accepted a three-year debarment from federal employment. The Energy employee voluntarily resigned Jan. 4 from her position.
According to recent data, though not unprecedented, it’s relatively rare for OSC to take corrective or disciplinary action on Hatch Act violators.
The agency obtained a total of 10 corrective actions and six disciplinary actions through negotiations or MSPB orders in fiscal 2018, the most recent year where such data were publicly available.
Two employees in 2018 resigned from federal employment due to Hatch Act violations, according to OSC.
The Office of Special Counsel, which enforces and administers the Hatch Act, said the employee violated the law when she gave a tour of a radioactive waste treatment plant in Washington state to a congressional candidate. The purpose of the tour, according to OSC, was to give the candidate additional information about the nuclear waste treatment plant, which would be used in the candidate’s campaign. The tour wasn’t open to the public.
“OSC deemed the employee’s actions to be a flagrant Hatch Act violation because she knew that DoE had previously denied the candidate’s tour requests,” OSC said Thursday in a statement. “Moreover, just three days before she gave the tour, the employee received a reminder about how such a tour could violate the Hatch Act. Despite having this information, the employee unilaterally used her official authority to give the tour. Information and photographs from the tour were then used to further the candidate’s campaign.”
OSC filed the Hatch Act complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board in November. In a brief statement describing the complaint, OSC said the employee knew the department had denied the candidate’s requests for a tour.
The Hanford Site is the one Energy-managed nuclear waste treatment plant in the state of Washington, according to the department.
OSC said Thursday it couldn’t make the complaint public and was limited in what additional information it could release.
“As a general matter, OSC staff may not disclose the name of the person who filed a Hatch Act complaint,” the agency said in a series of FAQs posted on the OSC website. “OSC’s program files, including Hatch Act complaints, contain personal or sensitive information, which is generally protected from release under the Freedom of Information Act. Release of the names of individuals who have reported suspected Hatch Act violations is generally considered to be an unwarranted invasion of privacy that could interfere with OSC’s law enforcement efforts by subjecting such individuals, on whom OSC relies to report potential violations, to possible harassment or reprisal for doing so.”
The Hatch Act generally prohibits executive branch employees from participating in political activity while on the job or in their official capacity as a federal worker.
Federal employees “may not engage in political activity — i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan policy office or partisan political group — while the employee is on duty, in any federal room or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia or using any federally owned or leased vehicle,” OSC guidance on the Hatch Act reads.