House sets votes on Hatch Act reform, disciplinary standards

December 18, 2012

The House plans to vote Tuesday on two federal employment-related bills, one that would allow lesser discipline in cases involving banned political activities, and the other allowing for stiffer actions against high-ranking employees in misconduct and similar cases.

The chamber plans votes on the Hatch Act Modernization Act and the Government Employee Accountability Act under a shortcut procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for approval.

The Hatch Act reform bill, which already has passed the Senate, would allow for a greater range of discipline when violations are found, including reduction in grade, debarment from federal employment for five years, suspension, reprimand, or a civil penalty of not more than $1,000; currently, firing is required, a penalty that can be reduced on appeal to no less than a 30-day unpaid suspension.

The measure also would loosen restrictions against certain state and local employees who are covered by the Hatch Act because they work in programs receiving federal funding. They would be allowed to run for partisan elective office unless their salary is paid completely from money from the federal government.

The other measure would set additional policies for disciplining federal senior executives, most of whom are career employees. They could be put on leave for up to 90 days pending an investigation into possible misconduct, misappropriation of funds, neglect of duty or malfeasance. The time off would be paid unless the agency determines that the matter involves a potential crime or is otherwise serious or flagrant; in that case, the time would be unpaid. Certain notice and appeal rights would apply.

The measure also sets new standards for disciplinary actions up to firing for misappropriation of funds.

The bill is one of many introduced in reaction to the General Services Administration conferences and awards scandal. If passed by the House, it would move to the Senate.

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