Hatch Act gets more teeth after White House ‘loophole’ closed

Hatch Act gets more teeth after White House ‘loophole’ closed

  • May 20, 2024

David Sivak, Washington Examiner

The agency responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act is attempting to rein in years of White House violations with new guidance that could make disciplinary action more likely.

On Monday, the Office of Special Counsel announced it would no longer give the president sole discretion on whether to pursue violations, as it has for senior White House officials. Instead, cases will be brought to the Merit Systems Protection Board, a quasi-judicial body that can punish staffers if they are found to have violated the statute.

A host of Biden aides, from press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to chief of staff Ron Klain, have been reprimanded by the OSC. In 2019, the office found that Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway violated the act so many times it recommended she be removed from office.

The OSC has long left it to the president to decide if and how these staffers should be punished, but the relative lack of action prompted the agency to reconsider the “loophole.” Only Senate-confirmed officials are not subject to the review board, it announced in a rule change it says aligns the statute with congressional intent.

Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, a watchdog group that reported violations by Jean-Pierre, welcomed the development, predicting the new rules would “make people think twice in situations that may be close calls.”

“We sincerely hope this new interpretation leads to a more consistent application of the law,” Chamberlain, a former Trump administration official, said.

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