Kathleen Clark is a law professor at Washington University and served as a government ethics lawyer in the D.C. Attorney General’s Office.
At a time when government ethics violations by the president, his aides or his Cabinet appointees seem to make the news every week, it’s easy to forget that ethics officials sometimes go too far in restricting government employees. That is what happened last week when an obscure agency declared that federal law prohibits federal employees from advocating for or against the impeachment of President Trump.
The agency, the independent Office of Special Counsel (not to be confused with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III), is wrong in its interpretation of the law and needs to withdraw its guidance.
The law at issue is the Hatch Act, a statute enforced by the OSC that was designed to ensure that the federal workplace is free of partisan politics. It helps the people have confidence that they will receive fair treatment in the executive branch, regardless of their political leanings. In the workplace, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity, including “activity directed toward the success or failure of a … candidate for partisan political office.”