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Senate panel backs new Hatch Act punishments, excess property bill

Jun. 27, 2012 - 04:20PM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY and ORIANA PAWLYK   |   Comments
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is one of two sponsors of a Senate bill to introduce new penalties under the Hatch Act. The other sponsor is Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is one of two sponsors of a Senate bill to introduce new penalties under the Hatch Act. The other sponsor is Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. (Getty Images)

Leading senators on Wednesday signaled their support for a bill that would provide a wider range of possible punishments for Hatch Act violators.

Federal employees who violate the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity in the federal workplace, can now only be fired or suspended for 30 days. This bill would give the Merit Systems Protection Board, which adjudicates Hatch Act complaints, more flexibility to hand out punishments that in some cases are lighter.

The bill would allow MSPB to instead issue violators formal reprimands, reduce their pay grade, debar them from federal employment for up to five years or fine them up to $1,000.

The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations, has called for adding those punishment options.

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to amend S 2170, the Hatch Act Modernization Act. The committee did not have the quorum necessary to pass the bill, but it is expected to formally approve it at a roll call vote Thursday. It is sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

Reps. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., have introduced an identical bill in the House.

Committee members also amended S 2178, the Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act, which would aim to reduce the government’s unused or underused properties. The full committee is also expected to approve that bill at Thursday’s roll call vote.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who introduced the bill, said that the government has at least 45,000 underused buildings and 14,000 buildings that are not being used at all.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the government spends $1.6 billion each year in maintenance, utilities, securities and other operating costs for those buildings.

“That’s an astonishing amount of money,” Collins said. “It is … evident that the current system is broken. The number of disposals over the last decade is really pathetic.”

Collins’ office said S 2178 aims to save $15 billion over 10 years by reducing the amount of excess property held by the government.

The bill would create a Federal Real Property Council to better set property management policies across the government, and require each agency to have a senior real property management officer to continually monitor property assets and make sure they are being used efficiently. It would also require agencies to dispose of surplus property within two years of the bill’s enactment.

Carper said 80 percent of the money raised by selling unneeded property would go to reduce the deficit. Another 18 percent would go to agencies for their property management and disposal efforts, and the remaining 2 percent would fund homeless assistance grants.

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