(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) introduced the Presidential Appointee Accountability Act, new bicameral legislation today that removes the immunity that shields presidential appointees from accountability under the Hatch Act and increases transparency in investigations of Hatch Act violations by high-level executive officials.
“In any other administration, Kellyanne Conway would have been fired for her near-constant, flagrant violations of ethics law - but not this one. Our legislation would ensure that senior political appointees aren’t able to avoid accountability for illegally acting on partisan politics when they’re supposed to be working on behalf of the American people,” Blumenthal said. “The fish rots from the head, and since we clearly can’t expect the Grifter-in-Chief to discipline his lackeys, the Office of Special Counsel needs real tools to ensure accountability instead.”
“Kellyanne Conway’s more than 25 flagrant violations of the Hatch Act and the President’s refusal to terminate her highlight a glaring failure in our system of oversight for federal employees,” Speier said. “If Ms. Conway wants to provide political spin on TV, she has the right to do so—but not on the taxpayer’s dime. President Trump may want to make America corrupt again by returning us to the Jacksonian spoils system so that he can reward his lackeys who express political loyalty with employment and influence. This legislation gives federal ethics law teeth by imposing fines against those found in violation of the Hatch Act.”
“At a time when rank and file employees are being held to increasingly strict and exacting standards, it is critical that high-ranking political appointees set the example for upholding the Hatch Act and other laws, not ignoring them or trashing them. This legislation will help empower the Office of Special Counsel to make sure that political appointees take seriously their obligation to serve the public, not partisan campaign agendas, when they are on the job,” Raskin said.
“With this kind of Administration, if there are no personal consequences they will not pay attention to the law,” DeSaulnier said.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is responsible for enforcing the Hatch Act – which prohibits federal employees from engaging in certain partisan political activities. Under current law, senior political appointees receive a special exemption from disciplinary action, and can only be held accountable by the President of the United States. Although OSC can investigate senior political appointees who engage in unauthorized political activities, it currently has no mechanism to hold violators accountable.
Earlier this month, OSC recommended that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway be removed from office after finding that she engaged in “egregious, notorious, and ongoing” violations of the Hatch Act that “erode the principle foundation of our democratic system – the rule of law.” President Trump has taken no action, and without a change to the law, there is no way to hold Conway accountable for this misconduct.
The Presidential Appointee Accountability Act would empower OSC to hold senior political appointees accountable by:
- Expanding the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) authority to pursue accountability for Hatch Act violations against high-level presidential appointees before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) without running afoul of the Appointments Clause;
- Permitting the MSPB to impose a fine of up to $10,000 per Hatch Act violation for such appointees;
- Requiring OSC to provide the President a written complaint outlining appointee Hatch Act violation(s) and recommended remedies, up to and including termination, and to make such statement available to the public; and
- Requiring the President to issue a public response within 30 days explaining whether he or she will follow the recommendation, and if not, providing an explanation for the lack of response.
The legislation is endorsed by Public Citizen, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), American Oversight, Norman J. Ornstein, and others.
“The persistent and deliberate violations of the Hatch Act among senior executive branch employees, and the absence of enforcement of the law by the Trump White House, demand that the scope of enforcement authority by the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board be expanded within constitutional boundaries. That expansion begins with passing the Presidential Appointee Accountability Act,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen.
“The recent refusal of the White House to hold a senior advisor to the president accountable for her blatant disregard of the Hatch Act highlights the need for stronger enforcement mechanisms for senior political appointees. POGO applauds the introduction of this bill and urges bipartisan support for this effort to ensure that federal employees don’t engage in political activity at the taxpayer’s expense, no matter what position they hold,” said Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy at POGO.
Earlier today, Speier, Raskin, and DeSaulnier attended the House Oversight Committee’s hearing regarding the recommendation of the independent OSC that President Trump remove senior presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway from federal service for numerous conspicuous violations of the Hatch Act. The Committee voted to subpoena Ms. Conway for failing to appear before the Committee to answer for her repeated Hatch Act violations.