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Lawmakers eyeing Hatch Act changes

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Well, this could get interesting. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is contemplating major changes to the Hatch Act, the law that generally bars federal employees from on-the-job partisan politicking.

At a hearing this afternoon, Issa didn’t say what kind of alterations he believes are needed, but labeled the status quo “clear as mud.” In a brief interview afterward, he drew distinctions in how the law affects the president and vice president; Cabinet officers and political appointees; and the career federal workforce. All three layers, Issa said, could need “multiple rounds” of legislation drafting.  Today’s hearing may be the first in a series.

If career feds are well aware of the Hatch Act—and the fact that they can be fired for violating it—the 1939 statute usually get more media attention when questions arise over presidential activities. Recently, the Obama administration has come under fire for hosting a meeting of Wall Street executives at the White House. While the administration says that the March gathering—first reported by The New York Times—was to discuss policy matters, invitations came from the Democratic National Committee.

And several lawmakers at today’s hearing complained that federal workers can innocently stumble over the law’s restrictions.  Among them was the oversight committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “Increased training is always helpful to help prevent these problems,” Cummings said, “but it also may be helpful to revisit some of these issues legislatively.”

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