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Hatch Act Crackdown Intensifies with New Enforcement Rules

In an effort to address persistent infractions by White House personnel, the federal agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act is putting new standards into place that could make disciplinary action more likely.

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The Office of Special Counsel announced on Monday that it will no longer permit the president to determine alone whether to investigate infractions by top White House staff members. Cases will instead be brought before the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial body with the power to sanction staff members who are discovered to have broken the law.

While the president and vice president are exempt, other government workers are prohibited from using their positions for political purposes by the Hatch Act. There have been reports of people in the White House receiving criticism for violating the Hatch Act, such as press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and chief of staff Ron Klain. 2019 saw the recommendation for Kellyanne Conway's removal from office after it was found that she had repeatedly violated the act as an adviser to President Trump.

The Office of Special Counsel had previously given the president the final say on how to handle these infractions, but the administration's inaction led the office to review the current procedure. With the exception of officials confirmed by the Senate, who are still not subject to the review board's supervision, the new rule modification is consistent with the statute's intended scope.

Additional policy changes have been proposed by Hampton Dellinger, who has led the Office of Special Counsel since March. Former officials may still be prosecuted in the future for transgressions committed while they were in the White House. The guidelines further prohibit wearing clothes that supports a candidate or exhibiting political objects in the workplace.

Dellinger claims that the goal of these enforcement adjustments is to give the public and federal employees unambiguous guidelines and rules. The Office of Special Counsel previously relied on a 1978 Justice Department judgment to shield senior staff from review board scrutiny; this accountability shift signals a change in strategy. Furthermore, the MSPB has the ability to make decisions thanks to its completed membership.

Watchdog organizations like Protect the Public's Trust, which exposed violations by Karine Jean-Pierre, have praised the crackdown on Hatch Act transgressions. The director of the organization, Michael Chamberlain, thinks that the new policies will encourage more careful analysis in ambiguous situations.

In response to the events, the White House remained silent.

Overall, the Office of Special Counsel's new rules indicate a stricter enforcement strategy for the Hatch Act, which is consistent with the law's original intent and indicates a significant change in how violations by top White House personnel will be handled.
 

Written by Staff Reports

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