Rules Restrict Political Activity for DoD People
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 12, 2004 With election activity steadily picking up, defense officials remind members of the military and Defense Department civilians that they're subject to rules regulating their involvement in political activities.
Gone are the days when the military posted troops at the polls after the Civil War, an act that Steve Epstein, director of the DoD General Counsel's Standards of Conduct Office, said intimidated many southerners into not voting.
Today, Epstein said two sets of rules help protect the integrity of the political process: a DoD directive for active-duty service members and the Hatch Act for federal civilians. These rules keep the military out of partisan politics and ensure that the workplace remains politically neutral, he said.
That's not to imply that military members and civilian employees can't participate in politics. Epstein said DoD encourages both groups to register to vote and vote as they choose, and to urge others to vote. Both groups can sign nominating petitions for candidates and express their personal opinions about candidates and issues but only if they don't do so as representatives of the armed forces. Also, all federal employees can make contributions to political organizations or candidates.
Beyond that, the list of dos and don'ts differs widely, depending on whether the employee is an active-duty service member, a rank-and-file Civil Service employee, a political appointee or member of the career Senior Executive Service, Epstein said.
Of all DoD employees, the men and women in uniform have the most restrictions regarding political activity, he explained. A 1993 revision to the Hatch Act freed most Civil Service employees to engage in political activities outside the workplace that were once forbidden, although many restrictions still apply.
For example, service members as well as government civilians can attend political meetings or rallies. Military members can attend only as spectators and not in uniform. They're not permitted to make public political speeches, serve in any official capacity in partisan groups, or participate in partisan political campaigns or conventions.
On the other hand, civilian employees governed by the Hatch Act may be active in and speak before political gatherings or serve as officers of political parties or partisan groups. They also are permitted to manage campaigns, distribute literature, write political articles or serve as a spokesperson for a party or candidate.
Military members generally aren't permitted to campaign for a political office. Civilian employees are, as long as it's a nonpartisan election.
While the dos and don'ts concerning political activity may vary, Epstein said the basic rules hold true for all DoD workers. They can't use their position to influence or interfere with an election. And they can never engage in political activity on the job, in a government vehicle, or while wearing an official uniform.
More details about restrictions on DoD military and civilian employees' political activities are posted on the DoD Web site.