As this year’s Nov. 3 election date approaches, all DoD personnel — civilian and military — must be aware of the limitations that affect their participation in political activity. While all personnel are encouraged to carry out the obligations of citizenship, they must be mindful of the longstanding tradition that DoD remain apolitical. This summary and links to detailed guidance will assist you in applying the rules to your particular circumstances and help you avoid inadvertent missteps.
CIVILIANS, THE HATCH ACT
The website for the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) describes the Hatch Act as a federal law passed in 1939, limiting certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local 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.
Social media and email — and the ease of accessing those accounts at work, either on computers or smartphones — have made it easier for federal employees to violate the Hatch Act.
In general, all federal employees may use social media and email and comply with the Hatch Act if they remember the following guidelines:
1) Do not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace
• Federal employees are “on duty” when they are in a pay status, other than paid leave, or are representing the government in an official capacity
• Federal employees are considered “on duty” during telecommuting hours
2) Do not engage in political activity in an official capacity at any time
3) Do not solicit or receive political contributions at any time
Below are just three frequently asked questions and the OSC answers to them; and although they specifically refer to Facebook and Twitter, the advice provided is applicable to any social media platform:
Q: May federal employees engage in political activity on Facebook or Twitter?
A: Yes, federal employees may express their opinions about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race, but there are a few limitations:
• Engaging in any political activity via Facebook or Twitter while on duty or in the workplace
• Referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time
• Suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time. Thus, they should neither provide links to a political contribution page nor “like,” “share” or “retweet” a solicitation, including an invitation to a fundraising event. However, employees may accept an invitation to a political fundraising event from such entities as Facebook and Twitter.
Q: May federal employees engage in political activity on Facebook or Twitter if they are “friends” with or have “followers” who are subordinate employees?
A: Yes, but subject to limitations. If a supervisor’s statements about a partisan group or candidate are directed at all of their Facebook or Twitter followers, e.g., posted on their Facebook page, there is no Hatch Act violation. Such statements would be improper if the supervisor specifically directed them toward subordinate employees, or to a subset of friends that included subordinate employees.
Q: May federal employees use a Facebook or Twitter account in their official capacity to engage in political activity?
A: No. Any social media account created in a federal employee’s official capacity should be limited to official business matters and remain political neutral.
For detailed social media guidance, an extensive list of FAQs, or to learn much more about the Hatch Act and how it affects federal employees, visit the Office of Special Counsel’s website and search Hatch Act.
DOD DIRECTIVE 1344.10
The primary guidance concerning political activity for military members is found in DoD Directive 1344.10 — Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.
Per longstanding DoD policy, active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.
Members on active duty may not campaign for a partisan candidate, engage in partisan fundraising activities, serve as an officer of a partisan club, or speak before a partisan gathering. However, active duty members may express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues, make monetary contributions to a political campaign or organization, and attend political events, in their personal capacity, as a spectator, when not in uniform.
• Social media
Like DoD civilians, service members must also be careful not to comment, post, or link to material that violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or Service regulation.
Examples include showing contempt for public officials, releasing sensitive information, or posting unprofessional material that is prejudicial to good order and discipline or Service discrediting under the UCMJ.
• DoD support to campaigns
Any activity that may reasonably be viewed as directly or indirectly associating DoD, or any component or personnel of DoD, with a partisan political activity or is otherwise contrary to the spirit and intention of this guidance must be avoided.
Consistent with this, installation commanders must decline requests for military personnel or federal civilian employees to appear in or support political campaign or election events in their official capacities. The exception is providing joint Armed Forces color guards at the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of the Republican, Democratic, and other political parties formally recognized by the Federal Election Commission.
In addition, installation commanders shall not permit the use of military facilities by any candidate for political campaign or election events, including public assemblies or town hall meetings, speeches, fundraisers, press conferences, post-election celebrations and concession addresses.
To read DoD Directive 1344.10, visit the Executive Services Directorate website and search for the specific directive.
USE OF OFFICIAL DOD
SEALS AND EMBLEMS
Official seals of DoD and the Military Services may only be used for official purposes. Military Service marks, including those appearing on flags, “may not be licensed for use in a manner that creates a perception of DoD endorsement of any non-federal entity or its products or services.”
DoD employees authorized to participate in political activities in their personal capacities must not sanction use of the flag or otherwise create an actual or apparent endorsement of a candidate or campaign by DoD or a Military Service.
QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS
Federal civilian personnel or service members who have questions or concerns about what is or is not allowed in regard to political activity may contact Lt. Kaylan Kaatz, staff judge advocate for NAS Patuxent River and NSA South Potomac, at 301-342-1934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.