With the national election just a couple of weeks away, senior DOD leaders are saying it’s more important than ever to keep politics out of the military workplace.
There are a number of rules meant to protect the integrity of the political process such as DOD Directive 1344.10, which applies to all service members, and the Hatch Act for federal civilian employees. As noted in these documents, they “help DOD personnel avoid the perception of official department sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any partisan political candidate, campaign or cause.”
The concern, DOD officials explained, is that actual or perceived political partisanship could undermine the legitimacy of the military profession and department. Put another way, in the words of Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “We that wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.”
This doesn’t imply that military members and civilian employees can’t participate in politics. In fact, the DOD has a longstanding policy of encouraging members to carry out the obligations of citizenship. The department wants military and civilian members to register to vote and select the candidate of their choice through an absentee ballot or in-person at a polling site. They also can sign nominating petitions for candidates and express their personal opinions about political positions on important issues.
However, officials emphasized, they can do so only if they don’t act as, or aren’t perceived as, representatives of the armed forces in carrying out these activities.
“Federal employees may express their opinions on social media about a partisan group or candidate in a partisan race – for example, post, like, share, tweet, retweet – but there are a few limitations,” said Capt. Diana L. Petty, installation voting assistance officer.
She said the Hatch Act specifically prohibits employees from the following:
- Engaging in any political activity via Facebook or Twitter while on duty or in the workplace on government or personal equipment.
- Referring to their official titles or positions while engaged in political activity at any time (inclusion of an employee’s official title or position in a social media profile, without more, is not an improper use of official authority; however, it should be an OPSEC concern).
- Suggesting or asking anyone to make political contributions at any time.
“The Hatch Act prohibits employees from soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions,” Petty added. “Even when an employee is off duty and away from the workplace, he or she may not fundraise for a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group. So, don’t send or forward an e-mail that solicits political contributions.”
She said fellow service members have strong limitations as well.
“Do not appear in uniform at any political activity,” she emphasized. “Do not engage in political conversation or activity while in uniform on duty.”
Some other limitations included in DOD 1344.10 are as follows:
- Do not participate in any radio, television or other broadcasted program or publicly attended group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate or cause.
- Service members cannot solicit or otherwise engage in fundraising activities in federal offices or facilities, including military reservations, for any political cause or candidate.
- Never march or ride in a partisan political parade in uniform or while wearing items that depict government affiliation.
- Do not display large political signs, banners or posters (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle.
- Do not display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that home is part of a privatized housing development.
“No political bumper stickers, hats or candidate accoutrements should be displayed at your office either,” Petty added.
Although there are a lot of don’ts in these documents, there are activities DOD Civilians and service members can do as well. Military members, for example, may attend political meetings or rallies but only as spectators and, again, not in uniform. Most civilian employees whose political activities are governed by the Hatch Act are permitted to be active in and speak before political gatherings and serve as officers of political parties or partisan groups.
Civilian employees also are permitted to manage campaigns, distribute literature, write political articles or serve as a spokesperson for a party or candidate. The key is keeping all military affiliations out of it.
Utmost on the list of “do’s” for everyone is registering to vote, then following through and casting a ballot, Petty emphasized. She then offered tips on that process, especially in the current operating condition of COVID-19 and mail-in ballot complications.
“When voting with a mail-in ballot, follow the instructions provided, then take it to the post office and hand it to the postal employee, telling them it is a voted ballot,” she strongly suggested. “They will handle it differently. Do not put it into one of the drop boxes.”
She added that it’s against the law to attempt to vote more than once. “This is a felony, and you could go to federal prison if caught,” she said. “Also, be patient on Election Day as lines may be long, so plan ahead.”
For DOD Civilians and service members registered to vote in Virginia, early polling is underway. Instructions have been sent out to commanders and supervisors at all levels emphasizing all military members and civilians will be given sufficient time off to vote within specified guidelines.
DOD officials added that violations of the Hatch Act are investigated by the Office of Special Counsel. Punishment can range from administrative disciplinary action to removal from government employment. Members of the military may face disciplinary measures under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
Anyone who has more questions about the “do’s and don’ts” of political activity for DOD personnel may contact Petty at 804-765-7505 or 731-0327. The DOD directive is available at www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/DODd/134410p.pdf. The Hatch Act can be found at osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct.aspx.