The House is tentatively set to vote next week on a bill to free 2.6 million federal civil servants and postal employees to manage political campaigns, act, as off-duty party fund-raisers or be candidates in local, state and national elections.
Union lobbyists think they have the votes to win major revisions of the Hatch Act. That law - really a collection of administrative decisions - has kept government workers out of active roles in partisan politics for the past 38 years.
The big question for AFL-CIO and federal union leaders is how big a winning margin they can muster in the House.
A respectable vote is necessary to convince a less-than-enthusiastic Senate leadership and the White House that this is the year for Hatch Axt reform.
Similar legislation (also by Missouri Democrat Rep. William Clay) passed Congress easily last year. But that was in the face of a guaranteed veto by President Ford. Congress failed to override the veto.
Some people believe that the Hatch Act may have more trouble this year because Congress knows President Carter will sign it - if Congress gets the bill to him. Some congressional Democrats voted for Hatch Act reforms last year, knowing they could win the good will of the unions, although the bill was a lost cause with the White House. Now the situation is reversed. Congress is virtually assured that the President will give it what it wants, so the question for some members becomes, does it want what it is about to give him?
For the average federal worker, changes in the Hatch Act would have little immediate impact. Workers - or their bosses - could run for offce or take active roles in campaigns. Backers of changes in the law say that there are sufficient protections to prevent on-the-job arm twisting of federal workers, and that there are laws on the books to prevent federal from intimidating the public for political reasons.
Nevertheless, the Carter administration wants to exempt an unspecified number of "sensitive" employees in legal, tax inspecting and security work from the new political freedoms that would go to other employees. The House Post Office-Civil Services Committee refused to bend to White House pressure, but the change would be made on the House floor or later in the Senate.
Editorial opinion around the country has generally been opposed to major changes in the Hatch Act (The Washington Post, however, has endorsed it in editorials).
Common Cause, the influential citizens lobby, has come out against Hatch Act changes and promises to pull in its Senate and House IOUs for "no" votes. The AFL-CIO, meanwhile, is solidly behind liberalizing the Hatch Act. Its troops have been busy for the past month seeking a big yes vote. Both sides will find out next week how well they did when the House is set to vote on the controversial issue.
Federal Correspondents Association: That super-relaxed group of reporters who cover governmental affairs meet next Wednesday (May 18) at the National Press Club to elect new officers and eat lunch. Vivian Vahlberg of the Daily Oklahoma is president. Call her today at 628-0335 for reservations.
Suspicions Confirmed Department: Everybody in government knows the personnel shop can be tough, but just how tough we weren't sure, until now! Consider this door sign at the Defense Mapping Agency that reads:
CLEAR OF DOOR
Free Beer: That's one of the attractions at the May 18 meeting of the Prince Goerge's chapter of the International Personnel Management Association. The other drawing cards are Earl Armbruster and Dave Delguardo of the Congressional Budget Office. They will talk about federal pay at the dinner meeting. Call Mary Buamgartner at 755-2718 for reservations.