The long arm of the Hatch Act reached out to Akron, Ohio, yesterday when a federal official recommended that three local public housing officials be fired because they tried to force subordinates to help the Republican Party.
The chief administrative law judge of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board recommended that the officials of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority be removed from their jobs because of "political coercion" or "attempted political coercion."
The Akron housing authority receives $15 million in federal funds, making it subject to the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities of individuals working on a program financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants, according to the Office of the Special Counsel.
The action represents the first time the Office of the Special Counsel -- established under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act -- has prosecuted such a coercion case.
Special Counsel Mary F. Wieseman argued that when a supervisor requested or suggested that a subordinate employe buy a $125 ticket to a fund-raising event, or solicit votes for a candidate, the action is "inherently coercive" because of the disparity of authority between manager and employe.
The federal government has the power to withhold funds from the housing authority if the agency refuses to discharge the workers.
A spokesman for the housing authority could not be reached.
The special counsel's office has been accused by congressional critics of overzealous enforcement of the Hatch Act against union officials and Democrats, and a lack of zeal in carrying out some other duties -- including protecting whistle-blowers.
A major revision of the Hatch Act to remove prohibitions against off-duty political activities is pending in the House. Provisions to prohibit political coercion would be strengthened, supporters of the measure say.