Federal worker is suspended for illegal campaign activities

An employee of the General Services Administration (GSA) has been suspended for campaigning for President Obama from her government office, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said Friday.

The employee, a contracting officer, invited 23 people to an Obama fundraiser from her government office while on duty during the 2007-2008 election cycle, a violation of the Hatch Act. The employee agreed to a settlement in which she will serve a 30-day suspension without pay, according to the OSC.

The Hatch Act restricts the political activities of federal employees.

ADVERTISEMENT
"An employee covered by the Act may not, among other things, engage in political activity while on duty or in a federal building or knowingly solicit, accept, or receive political contributions," the OSC said in a statement.

It’s the latest trouble for the beleaguered GSA, which has been at the center of a scandal over lavish government spending.

A scathing GSA inspector general report, released earlier this year, detailed the almost $823,000 taxpayer-funded tab for the conference, including $146,527 for catered food, $6,325 for commemorative coins and $75,000 for a cooperation-building exercise to construct two dozen bicycles.
 


The public report led to the immediate firing of two top GSA officials, prompted the quick resignation of GSA Administrator Martha Johnson and brought a wave of loud condemnation from lawmakers in both parties.

A bipartisan contingent of lawmakers have stepped up talks about reforming the Hatch Act in recent months, with a bill put forward by Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) drawing a special focus on easing regulations for local government workers who want to run for a political office.

Some lawmakers have also pushed to modernize the law by giving the OSC a wider breadth of investigatory power over electronic communications and devices.  

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Cummings serves on as the ranking member, has looked closely at the issue and signaled a growing degree of across-the-aisle support, though it may be difficult to move a bill in an election year.

Issa lauded the OSC’s announcement on Friday and said lawmakers and other federal officials should keep a trained eye on instances of partisan pressure under the Obama administration.

“The suspensions OSC announced make it clear there is a need to stay vigilant as the elections draw closer to ensure improper political activity is not occurring in the Executive Branch agencies,” said Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Issa, in a statement to The Hill.

This story was updated at 1:38 p.m. and 4:06 p.m.

—Mike Lillis and Jordy Yager contributed.