The Defense Department has issued a message to its civilian employees and military personnel on post-election political activities that takes a more restrictive approach than guidance recently issued by the Office of Special Counsel.
“After Election Day, with a few exceptions such as runoff elections, the Hatch Act does not prohibit civilian employees from wearing or displaying a former candidate’s campaign items while they are on duty, as long as the individual is no longer actively seeking partisan political office,” the department said in a posting on a news and announcements site for its personnel.
However, it added: “For example, display of a campaign sign reading “Gore-Lieberman” or “Bush-Cheney” would be permitted at any time because their presidential candidacies have ended,” notably excluding Trump-Pence or Biden-Harris from that category.
Also it said that “Overall, any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the DoD with partisan political activities should be avoided.”
In contrast, the OSC recently said that while for Hatch Act purposes an individual is no longer considered a candidate when the outcome of the election is determined by a vote of the Electoral College—that is to occur in early January—the OSC “has consistently advised that, with rare exception, post Election Day activities showing support for or opposition to a presidential candidate will not affect the result of the election for that office.”
“Therefore, wearing campaign items, like t-shirts or hats, and displaying candidate photographs in the workplace after Election Day no longer constitute political activity for purposes of the Hatch Act,” it said.
The OSC added that even after Election Day, the Hatch Act continues to prohibit employees from engaging in activity that shows support for or opposition to political parties or partisan political groups while they are on duty, in a government room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle.
DoD’s message echoed that warning, saying that its “personnel must remain apolitical while performing official duties. Civilian employees are always prohibited from engaging in political activity — defined as an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office — while on duty and while in a federal building.”