The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants to know how closely federal agencies are keeping tabs on their employees' political activities.

House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent letters to 18 agencies on July 21 to inquire about their enforcement of the Hatch Act.

Related: Read the letter

The 1939 law prohibits federal employees from participating in political activities, such as campaigning for a candidate while on duty or using taxpayer funds to cover travel costs related to political activity.

The move comes after government investigators found that the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro had violated the Hatch Act in an interview with Yahoo News' Katie Couric.

"The Hatch Act regulations define 'political activity' as 'an activity directed towards the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group,'" the letter said.

"It is not always clear, however, whether an event is political or official in nature.  We are writing to determine how your agency or your office makes decisions about how to structure official trips to comply with the Hatch Act and other applicable laws."

The letter specifically requests information about:

  • How agencies ensure compliance with the act’s restrictions on travel
  • What formulas are used to apportion travel costs for events with official and political components
  • How are travel costs handled procedurally for other government officials
  • What political events have presidential-appointed, Senate-confirmed (PAS) executives have attended in 2016
  • What future political events are PAS’s scheduled to attend for the rest of the year and will those events also have official travel

During the April interview with Couric, Castro reportedly spoke about his endorsement of presumed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, while speaking negatively about her opponent, Republican Donald Trump.

Castro attempted to separate his support of Clinton from his official role as HUD secretary, saying, "Now taking off my HUD hat for a second and just speaking individually," before discussing Clinton, but appeared with the department's seal behind him and continued to be interviewed about his official role, which investigators from the Office of the Special Counsel said violated the Hatch Act.

The House Oversight letter was sent to Castro's agency, HUD, as well as 17 other federal agencies overseen by The White House.

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