Backers of legislation to amend the Hatch ("no politics") Act say the confusing law makes second-class citizens of federal workers who are clamoring to take active roles in partisan campaigns.
Backers of the status quo claim that the 48-year-old law has kept the civil service from becoming politicized and that many federal workers use the confusing nature of the law to turn off overzealous bosses and fund-raisers.
Today's Monday Morning Quarterback includes some comments from real federal workers that may interest their self-appointed spokesmen:
"I strongly object to revising the Hatch Act. In my agency there is already too much politicking. Two different people went on long-term leaves of absence to test the political waters for a congressional race. Both found the water too cold and came back to work. I didn't know this was permitted. Also, I've noticed a number of politically active types use the Xerox machines with a vengeance during local and national campaigns.
"One can only wonder what would happen if they were 'allowed' to do such things without any attempt at subterfuge. No revisions of the act, please." Ed, Northern Virginia
"The Hatch Act is confusing and an unjustified way to keep feds silent and locked out of the political process. It is like saying I can wear a coat but not a hat, can have a flag but can't wave it, can listen but can't respond. In other words one is no good without the other. Let's do away with the act." G.A., Washington
"During the last election the union office in my federal building flaunted a large Mondale poster. I think such displays are inappropriate in any office -- government or business.
"We all know where the union stands, and I think most workers recognize the push for repealing the Hatch Act comes from unions, not rank-and-file government employees." D.H., Arlington
"I find the so-called restrictions of the act comforting and convenient. Twice during my career . . . I have been nudged by political appointees to volunter for some political cause. Although I suspect it would have been legal, I didn't like the idea of my boss suggesting I help in a campaign.
"So I told them that while I would love to help (not true!) I was afraid of the Hatch Act, and worried that the story might wind up in The Washington Post. Neither ever asked again." R.O., Washington
"I support revision of the Hatch Act. I agree that some measures are needed to protect employees against coercion. However, we can rely on our unions and employee organizations for this protection. I am a naturalized American citizen from Belgium, one of the many Western democracies which allow partisan political activities by government employees. I don't understand why I can't be politically active because I have become a government employee." M.L.S., Mount Rainier
" . . . Constitutional rights are not to be a partisan issue. While we are celebrating the anniversary of our Constitution federal employees are not permitted to have political freedom and individual liberties. Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Australia and Great Britain allow their workers to engage in partisan political activities. Why is it the greatest country takes such a harsh stand against some of its citizens?" D.D.E., Washington