- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

The government is cracking down on federal employees who send e-mails with jokes, cartoons or messages that are partisan in nature.

For civil servants the unofficial message is this: When in doubt — don’t. What’s funny or important to you might be offensive and inappropriate, not to mention illegal.

Long before the Internet or e-mail, Congress made the Hatch “No Politics” Act the law of the land. The law has been modified and amended several times to give federal-postal and state and local government workers paid with federal funds more political elbowroom. But it still bans partisan activities in federal buildings.

A new advisory, illustrated by a series of so-called water-cooler rulings on e-mail, is designed to hammer home the idea that folks should be very careful before they push the “send” button on their federal computer.

The advisory highlights several cases in which the Office of Special Council (OSC) took action against feds who stepped over the political line when they hit the “send” button on their office computers. The cases involved overzealous Democrats, Republicans and one member of a state Green Party who put their brains on hold while politicking on the job.

If you thought that by now most people would know what not to do with their official e-mail, then you would be wrong. For example:

• The federal Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in June slapped a 60-day suspension without pay on an employee who sent 300 of his closest friends an e-mail invitation to a Halloween party for Rep. Tim Holden, Pennsylvania Democrat, who was seeking re-election. The government said the e-mail was “obviously directed toward the success” of his campaign.

• The MSPB reversed two decisions by administrative law judges in June. One had dismissed OSC charges against two feds who sent e-mails with a picture of President Bush standing before an American flag and a message that said “I Vote The Bible” with pro-Bush and anti-Democratic statements. In the other, the MSPB reversed an administrative law judge who had no problem with an e-mail containing a bogus letter from the son of former President Eisenhower who said he was supporting Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts for president.

• The MSPB in August upheld an administrative law judge’s decision to fire an employee of the Small Business Administration. His offense: Over a three-year period the employee, an elected official of the California Green Party, reportedly received, read, drafted and or sent out more than 100 e-mails from his office computer. The e-mails dealt with recruiting members and raising funds for the party as well as helping to plan a statewide political convention.

• Ending up the year in 2006, the MSPB upheld OSC’s decision that an Environmental Protection Agency employee violated the Hatch Act by sending out via his official e-mail a letter from the Democratic National Committee promoting the candidacy of Mr. Kerry.

Deflation elevator

Despite a 0.5 percent jump in the cost of living last month, the cost-of-living level is still below the same measuring period this time last year. Living costs, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI-W, dipped 0.2 percent in November and December.

The drop in living costs worried some people who get federal and military retirement checks or Social Security who feared their benefits might be cut next year. Don’t worry about it. While those benefits are guaranteed to rise with inflation, they don’t have a “down” button when the cost of living drops.

Bottom line: The amount of the January 2008 cost-of-living adjustment for the retirees won’t be known until mid-October. If inflation goes up, they will get a raise. But if living costs drop they will not, repeat not, have their benefits cut.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]federalnewsradio.com.

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