- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Scattered throughout tens of thousands of U.S. government offices, from Suitland to Singapore, are weapons of personal destruction just waiting to wreck the careers of unwitting civil servants.

The main weapon is e-mail. When used improperly, e-mail can ensure the professional demise of a longtime fed.

Writing or forwarding a dumb, offensive or illegal bit of information or picture puts feds in hot water every day. In some cases, they get off with a reprimand, which can hamper future promotions. In others, they face suspension, dismissal or even jail time for hitting the “send” button.

The federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) recently nailed two civil servants for sending partisan e-mail messages while on duty. The e-mail one side supporting President Bush and the other backing Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat in some cases were sent from government offices to people who do not work for the government.

The OSC enforces Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act is a 1939 statute, much revised, that bars on-the-job politicking and political arm-twisting. The maximum penalty for a Hatch Act violation is dismissal.

One case involves an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency who e-mailed a letter from the Democratic National Committee to 31 EPA employees “while he was on duty and in the federal workplace.” This, as most feds would suspect, is prohibited.

The second case involves a Social Security worker in Kansas City, Mo., who sent an e-mail supporting the re-election of Mr. Bush while blasting his opponent. It was sent to 27 fellow employees and outsiders.

An administrative law judge dismissed the complaint against the employee on grounds that it did not constitute a Hatch Act violation. The employee has left government.

The OSC appealed the case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which said that sending such an e-mail was as much a violation as wearing a political button while on duty or distributing partisan material on federal property.

In addition to e-mail abuse in political cases, some feds get into trouble while conducting business, such as selling dishes or real estate, while on duty. Others face more serious charges when they view, download or pass on pornographic or sexually explicit material.

Bottom line: The difference between the “send” key and the “delete” button can be important if you want to make it to retirement.

Check eater

Each year, thousands of federal workers who retire under the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) get a big jolt when they receive their first Social Security check. It is when many learn of the so-called “windfall” formula that can reduce their Social Security check by several hundred dollars each month.

Windfall was set up by Congress years ago to prevent feds with short service less than 30 years of paying into Social Security from collecting full benefits. Windfall also can hit teachers, police officers and other public employees who get a pension from work not covered by Social Security.

Federal and postal groups, led by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, have been fighting for decades to modify or eliminate the windfall formula and another formula known as “offset,” which can wipe out the spousal Social Security benefit due the survivor of a CSRS retiree.

On the first day of the new Congress, 102 members introduced a bill that would repeal both the windfall and offset formulas. Although it has wide support, its odds are slim.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcauseyfederalnewsradio.com.

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