Government doctor could be fired for politicking

A federal personnel panel has ordered the removal of a doctor at the Department of Veterans Affairs for engaging in political activities while on the job at an Arizona hospital.

John Bagdade , a physician with the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, is appealing a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board, which ruled that he should be removed from his job for violating the Hatch Act. The law prohibits career federal employees from engaging in political activities while on the job.

The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates potential Hatch Act violations, referred Bagdade’s case to the MSPB for allegedly violating the law on two separate occasions. In the first case, Bagdade e-mailed an invitation to a presidential fundraiser to co-workers and subordinates while on duty at the VA hospital. Later, Bagdade forwarded an e-mail from an Arizona state treasurer candidate to a colleague just two days before he was scheduled to speak with special counsel office investigators about the first incident, OSC said.

After an investigation, the special counsel’s office referred the case to an administrative judge with the MSPB, which reviews federal personnel cases. The judge ordered Bagdade removed from his job, ruling that “solicitation of political contributions from subordinates is among the most serious violations condemned by the Hatch Act.”

A three-person MSPB appeals panel concurred with the judge’s ruling in December. OSC did not learn of the decision until last week, according to a spokesman.

Bagdade is appealing the panel’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, OSC said. Messages left for Bagdade and his attorney, David Eisenberg of Phoenix, were not immediately returned. The VA had no immediate comment.

Just two federal employees were removed from office for violating the Hatch Act in fiscal 2009; another two lost their jobs last year for similar violations, according to OSC. The office filed just 10 disciplinary action cases with MSPB in 2009, according to a spokesman.

The special counsel’s office regularly issues advisory opinions on the scope of the Hatch Act, but doesn’t regularly report the number of cases it refers to the merit board for further consideration. Its former director, Scott Bloch, may be headed to prison for at least a month after a a federal judge ruled last week that he cannot withdraw his guilty plea for withholding information from Congress.

The counsel’s office recently completed a three-year investigation that concluded that at least seven Cabinet secretaries to President George W. Bush took politically-motivated trips at taxpayer expense during the 2006 midterm campaign season.

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This post has been updated since it was first published.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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