"Guidance Regarding Political Activity" Forbids Resistance; Will Constrain Whistleblowers

That Donald Trump is an authoritarian nightmare is hardly news, but it's continually stunning to me how his every authoritarian move is not itself more major news than it ever seems to be.

This should be headlining news everywhere all day today, for example.

Eli Rosenberg at the Washington Post: No Talk of 'the Resistance' or Opinions About Impeachment at Work, Federal Employees Are Warned.
In a move that some ethics advocates say could be an opening to limit dissent, the federal government has issued new guidance for the political activity of federal government workers, warning that weighing in on impeachment or talking about "the Resistance" may constitute prohibited activity.

The Office of Special Counsel is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity in the course of their work. The office, not to be confused with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation, is run by Henry Kerner, whom [Donald] Trump nominated to the post.

The unsigned "Guidance Regarding Political Activity," which was issued Tuesday, uses a question-and-answer format as it seeks to clarify the types of actions and rhetoric considered political activity, and therefore prohibited at work.

In a nod to the current climate, it stipulated that advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office would be considered political because of its implications for future elections, and that any use of terms like "resistance" and "#resist" would be construed as political activity.

But some government watchdogs said they feared the guidelines could have wide-ranging effects on the nearly 3 million federal employees in the United States, as well as state and local government employees who work with federally funded programs. The ethics nonprofit American Oversight said the guidance raised "significant concerns" in a letter it sent to the office on Thursday, urging it to withdraw the memo.

...In particular, [the group's executive director, Austin Evers] expressed concern that the guidelines could constrain whistle-blowers.

"As OSC knows well, it is critically important to ensure public employees are comfortable raising concerns about waste, fraud, or abuse in the government," he wrote. "Impeachment is primarily a remedy for severe misconduct. If public employees are aware of conduct that could be impeachable but fear civil or criminal liability under the Hatch Act for saying so, they may be reluctant to approach OSA, inspectors general, or Congress."

Nick Schwellenbach, the director of investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and an employee of the OSC from 2014 to 2017, said he felt the guidance likely crossed a legal line, saying the Hatch Act was meant to be narrowly focused on political activities around parties and candidates.

"The way OSC has traditionally balanced its enforcement of that statute with the First Amendment is [focused on] supporting a candidate or political party for election. I think once you start talking about more general political views, you're starting to infringe upon people's rights," he said. "This one, I think, goes too far for them. It runs the risk of turning the OSC into an Orwellian enforcer inside the federal workforce."
That's absolutely correct. The intent of the Hatch Act is to prevent people in government from leveraging the power their positions confer to put a thumb on the scale in what should be free and fair elections. Thus it cannot be willfully misconstrued so its impact is to stifle people's First Amendment rights in order to protect a corrupt administration who exploits enforced silence of critics to expand their authoritarian reach.

This is a profound betrayal of federal employees. And let us be clear: If the Trump Regime is allowed to get away with criminalizing dissent among government employees, an attempt to criminalize dissent among the general population will surely be next.

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