Vote for Obama! Oh Wait, I’m Not Supposed to Say That…

Most of us have a favorite sports team affiliation – whether it’s a pro team or our alma mater from college days. And some of us proudly post our unwavering love as fans on our cars, on our chests and, yes, in our offices. But what if your favorite sports team is a political party or candidate?

Well, in government, you’re not supposed to state your views openly…and sometimes that’s hard when you feel pretty passionate about a person.

Washington Post Reporter Ed O’Keefe reminds government employees in a recent blog post that they can’t even have our current President’s photo in their cube now that the 2012 election cycle is in full swing. Here’s an excerpt:

With the 2012 presidential race heating up, federal workers are being reminded to keep campaign paraphernalia out of the office — and not to draw halos or horns around the head of President Obama.

The Hatch Act prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity while on the job or using government vehicles. TheOffice of Special Counsel, which enforces the law, regularly updates its official guidance on the law around campaign season.

The office this month published a reminder that any official campaign photos or fliers of Obama or Republican presidential candidates are prohibited around the office.

And, yes, the actual memo does say that people cannot put “halos and horns” on the photos…do adults really need this kind of guidance?

But here are the real questions:

  • Is this fair? Shouldn’t you be able to share your political opinions publicly?
  • Do you see people behaving badly – putting “halos and horns” on images?


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Profile Photo Tarryn Reddy

I think we should be able to publicly share our opinions, but that might mean making some enemies. This might be controversial at work if you can’t keep your passion for politics separate from your professional relationships. Some people might automatically not want to be associated with you because of political views. It’s not the way it should be but I don’t think people can help it sometimes.

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Profile Photo Preston G. Baker

The initial reaction is often to think, there is freedom of speech and I should be allowed to express my viewpoint in the office. However, consider a situation where your supervisor is from one party and you are a vocal member of the opposition. Could your supervisors performance evaluation of you or the task you are assigned to, be persauded by his or her opposition to your opposing views? Of cousre the statement will be made that the lousy assignment you are stuck with had nothing to do with your membership in the “wrong party” but how will you know that this statement is the truth?

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Profile Photo Anne Steppe

When I was first notified of this prohibition – not that I have a picture of the Prez on my desk anyway – I was offended. Still am. Have been a Fed for over 20 years and not once have I ever received this kind of notification about a president or the president’s picture. Why now? What a pathetic, sad state of affairs.

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Profile Photo Bryan Conway JD, PMP

It looks like this policy has been in place since 1939! The fact that it hasn’t been enforced lately doesn’t change the fact that displays of political partisanship aren’t permissible.

This isn’t a free speech issue – when you are on public or private property (other than your own), you don’t have the right to say or do whatever you wish!

(By the way, there is currently no shortage of the President’s photos in employee cubes, at least in my agency).

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Profile Photo Mark E. Spencer

Not really sure why anyone would want a pic of any politician in their work space. When I come in first thing in the a.m. to open up the clinic, we have a large pic of the man occupying the Oval Office as well as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the foyer area. Interestingly, during this administration’s term, the pic of the man who is a heartbeat away from occupying the Oval Office is missing. We had pics of “W’ and Cheney along with Principi’s pic before. Wonder why no second place person’s pic? I do have a pic of Tom Jefferson sitting on my desk along with some sage sayings that he made over 200 years ago about what we should not allow to happen to this country. Interestingly enough, everything he warned against is being done to us now. I don’t suppose I would be in trouble with having TJ’s pic on my desk, since he isn’t running for office or campaigning for anyone. Too bad we never listen to what our Founding Fathers wanted us to do for our own good.

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Profile Photo Bryan Conway JD, PMP

So, there is a conspiracy within the GSA and the Office of Special Counsel to orchestrate the removal of the current administration’s pictures and disallow their campaign materials to be posted by federal workers? How insidious, lol!

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Profile Photo Christopher Whitaker

I think public workers openly supporting Democratic candidates became fair game when the WI GOP stripped public workers of the bargaining rights. I actually felt less-than-inclined to hide my partisanship after the Tea Party attacks, but after an elected official began attacking public workers directly that’s what did it for me.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to say in the President’s home town. I don’t actually have any election stuff in my booth and I’m not sure if I ever would put up anything.

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Profile Photo Stephanie Slade

I see where you’re coming from, but the other side of it is that there are some jobs that require a person to set aside certain allegiances in order to do them well. Just as an example, I worked during college for the sports section of a newspaper. I learned right away how seriously journalists take the notion of “impartiality.” It doesn’t matter how big a fan of a team you might be coming into a job, if you’re tasked with covering that team for the paper, it is no longer appropriate to cheer for them or wear their gear in public. Most sportswriters actively avoid wearing either team’s colors at a game they’re covering. They recognize that if they’re seen as biased in favor of one side or the other, their credibility is instantly and irreparably damaged. In that case, the sacrifice of giving up their passion for the team (at least in public) is a price reporters are willing to pay in order to do the job. Just another way of looking at it.

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Profile Photo Bryan Conway JD, PMP

@Chrisopher – if limiting bargaining rights in a state is justification for violating the Hatch Act, I’m sure you would agree that eliminating the cost of living increases for all federal workers is grounds to openly support our President’s opponent in 2012?

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Profile Photo Peter Sperry

@Christopher — You might be interested in what the Democrats are doing in Massachussetts

http://www.boston.com/news/politics/articles/2011/04/27/house_votes_to_limit_bargaining_on_health_care/

House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.

The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats”

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Profile Photo Christopher Whitaker

I should probably backtrack on my comments just a bit as they came off a bit snarky – I still believe in the Hatch Rule and other rules like that but I think it’s becoming harder for the public sector to maintain an air of nuetrality. Maybe it’s more at the State-Level than the Federal level and my proximity to Wisconson, Ohio, and Indiana may be skewing my opinion just a bit. Our own governor election was pretty heated as well and we were attacked during that election too.

Nobody in our office has any campaign/partisan anything in our areas (as that’s illegal and still a good idea) and I don’t think anyone would openly campaign in the office. Have a lot of us picked sides due to everything that’s going on? Ab-so-lut-ly

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Profile Photo Mark Hammer

My agency in the Canadian federal government is tasked with oversight of the impartiality of the federal public service and assuring that it is non-partisan. This is to be accomplished while respecting public servants rights as citizens.

As you can imagine, that’s one tough juggling act. It is a very difficult thing to convey clearly to all employees in a way that allows them to to find that balance. And it is also a tough thing to convey to political staffers who occasionally cross over the line and compromise the impartiality of the public service by making demands. sadly, the fact they can do so only gives public servants more ammunition to say “Well if these guys can force me to do things that are simply intended to make them look good on public opinion polls, why should I feel any compunction about publicly expressing my distaste for them?”. That sort “But Timmy’s mom lets him…” reasoning doesn’t work out well for anybody.

We have a web-page directed at public servants that discusses all of this, and provides both guidance and policies. Obviously, it is fashioned around our own legal environment and organizational mandate, but you may find it interesting and of some use in sorting out your own stance on these matters. http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plac-acpl/index-eng.htm

I think it goes without saying that all citizens should be able to trust that their public service serves the government of the day, and the public interest, without bias or favour. That should be evident in the advice they give to senior and elected officials, and it should be evident when they serve the public. It’s a sacred enough trust that if you believe in it, you have to give up a little to make it work.

We’re coming down the home stretch of a federal election here, that is a wild and surprising as CFL football. I don’t mind telling people who I’m voting for, in confidence, but you will not find any signs on my lawn, or bumper-stickers, or buttons, or posters. And that’s the way it should be.

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Profile Photo Sonya

I thought politics, religion, & sex were off limits in any workplace (public or private) because of the potential for discrimination and the resulting fallout. In reality, human beings can’t be 100% impartial 100% of the time though. I had a supervisor “turn” on me in a previous job once he thought he discovered my political & religious leanings. It was vicious & ugly. I wouldn’t take his bait and go there. By refusing to talk about it, I somehow confirmed his suspicions. He ran me off. I was young & unaware of employment law, so I let him get away with it. I was excited to get my government job because I knew that diversity, anti-discrimination, and respectful workplace policies were serious business. I can’t be harassed because of what I do or don’t believe in, or who I did or didn’t vote for. Sweet relief! As much as I’d love to festoon my workplace with my choices, I would never want to make a customer or a coworker uncomfortable or feel like they aren’t going to get fair and even treatment from me.

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Profile Photo Josh Kaufman

Note: This guidance refers primarily to Facebook and Twitter in the following questions due to the popularity of those sites for social networking, but the advice provided in response to these questions applies equally to all other social media, such as Myspace, Linkedin, etc. Please contact OSC at (202) 254-3650 if you have a question not addressed by the following scenarios

  • For Individual, Federal Employees:

  • May a federal employee write a blog on which he or she expresses support or opposition to partisan political candidates and political parties?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees):Yes, but subject to the following limitations. Federal employees are not prohibited from expressing their opinions concerning partisan political candidates and political parties. However, they are prohibited from engaging in “political activity,” that is, activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group, while on duty or in a building occupied in the discharge of official duties by a federal officer or employee. Thus, federal employees are prohibited from writing such a blog while on duty or in their federal workplace. However, doing so outside of duty hours and in another location would not violate the Hatch Act.

    The Hatch Act also prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Therefore, they should not identify their official titles or use their statuses as federal employees to bolster the opinions concerning political parties, partisan candidates, or partisan groups that they post on their blogs.

    Finally, federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time. Thus, at no time should they suggest or ask that readers of their blogs make contributions to a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group. Further, they should not post links to the contribution page of any of those entities’ or individuals’ websites.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Yes, but with an added limitation. In addition to the guidelines set forth above for less restricted employees, note that further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. Taking an “active part” would include distributing campaign literature. Thus, a further restricted employee would be prohibited from posting anything on his or her blog that was created by, or leads to information created by, the party, partisan candidate, or partisan campaign, because OSC would consider such activity to be the equivalent of distributing literature for those entities.

  • If a federal employee has listed his official title on his Facebook profile page, may he fill in the field provided for “political views” on his Facebook profile?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees):Yes. Although the Hatch Act and its attendant regulations prohibit federal employees from using their official titles while engaging in political activity, simply identifying the political party that they support on their Facebook profiles, without more, is not “political activity,” that is, activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Yes. The same answer applies to further restricted employees.

  • May federal employees advocate for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan public office on their Facebook pages or on the pages of others?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes, to the extent such activity is not expressly prohibited by the Hatch Act. As explained previously, federal employees may not solicit, accept, or receive campaign contributions at any time. Further, they may not use their official authority or influence to affect the result of an election. Finally, they may not engage in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace. Thus, they may not ask or encourage readers to make contributions to a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate, or post a link to the contribution page of any of those groups’ or individuals’ websites, on their Facebook pages or the pages of others.

    Moreover, they may not refer to their official positions with the government in an effort to bolster the political advocacy statements they post on Facebook. Note, however, that OSC would not consider the inclusion of a federal employee’s official title on his Facebook profile, without more, to be an improper use of his official authority to bolster the statements he posts on Facebook.

    Finally, federal employees must not post comments or opinions on Facebook that advocate for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan public office, while they are on duty or in the federal workplace. They may, however, do so after duty hours and in another location.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): The same answer applies to further restricted employees, but with one added restriction. Specifically, further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. Thus, they should not post on Facebook links to the website of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan political candidate, because such activity is akin to distributing literature on behalf of those entities or individuals.

  • May federal employees who are “friends” with their subordinate employees advocate for or against a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan public office on their Facebook pages?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes, but subject to the following guidelines. Although the Hatch Act prohibits using one’s official authority or influence to affect the result of an election, OSC does not view this activity as violating the Hatch Act, provided the supervisor’s statements are directed at all of his Facebook “friends,” e.g., if he posted his opinion concerning a candidate in his Facebook “status” field. We see this activity as being akin to the supervisor placing a sign in his yard that promotes a candidate but that, incidentally, may be seen by his subordinates.

    On the other hand, such statements would violate the Hatch Act if the supervisor specifically directed them toward his subordinate employees, or to a subset of friends that includes subordinates, e.g., by sending a Facebook “message.” In this situation, OSC would view the supervisor’s actions as purposefully targeting subordinates with the message, as opposed to the scenario described above, in which the subordinates see the supervisor’s opinions by chance.

    Similar to the guidance above concerning Facebook’s messaging function, a supervisor may never send to subordinate employees an e-mail that is directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate. OSC would view such an e-mail as one that purposefully targets subordinates, and thus it would be an improper use of the supervisor’s official authority or influence to affect the result of an election.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Yes. The same answer applies to further restricted employees, but subject to the following caveat. Specifically, further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management or partisan political campaigns. Thus, they should not post on Facebook links to the website of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan political candidate, because such activity is akin to distributing literature on behalf of those entities or individuals.

  • May a federal employee post a link to the website of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group on his or another’s Facebook page or blog?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes, but with some limitations. Specifically, as explained above, federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time. Therefore, they may post a link that leads to the home page of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group. The link, however, may not lead directly to the page of the website on which readers can contribute money to the party, group, or candidate.

    In addition, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal building. Posting links to the websites of political parties, partisan political groups, or partisan political candidates is akin to leafleting, that is, circulating literature for those groups and individuals. Thus, they may not post such links during duty hours or while in the federal workplace.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): No. As explained previously, further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. As stated above, posting a link to the website of a political party or partisan political campaign is akin to leafleting, that is, distributing political literature on behalf of that party or campaign. Thus, the Hatch Act prohibits further restricted employees from posting such links on Facebook pages or blogs.

  • What should a federal employee do if one of his Facebook friends posts a comment on the employee’s Facebook page that solicits contributions to a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate, posts a link to the contribution page, or otherwise solicits political contributions?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Although federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time, they are not responsible for the acts of a third-party, even if the third party’s actions appear on their Facebook pages. Thus, if a federal employee’s “friend” posts a link to the contribution page of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group, or otherwise solicits political contributions, the employee does not need to take any action. However, he should not post any comments that would tend to encourage other readers to donate.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): The same answer applies to further restricted employees.

  • May a federal employee become a “friend” or “fan” of, or “like,” the Facebook page of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate?
  • Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes, but subject to the following limitations. Specifically, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal building. Thus, if they are a ”friend” or “fan” of, or “like,” a party, partisan group, or partisan candidate’s campaign on Facebook, they should not engage in activities with respect those entities’ Facebook pages that would constitute “political activity” during duty hours or while in the federal workplace. Political activity is defined as any activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office. This would include, for example, suggesting that others “like,” “friend,” or become a “fan” of the party, group, or candidate, accepting an invitation to a partisan political event, or forwarding the invitation to others.

    In addition, federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time. Thus, if an employee receives an invitation from the party, group, or candidate to a fundraising event via Facebook or Twitter, the employee would be prohibited from sharing that invitation with others.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): A further restricted employee may become a “friend” or “fan” of, or “like,” a party, partisan group, or candidate’s Facebook page, but only if he adjusts his privacy settings such that his list of “friends,” “likes,” “interests,” and “pages” that provides links to those entities’ pages are visible only to the employee. The rationale for this condition is that further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. If a further restricted employee becomes a “friend” or “fan” of, or “likes,” a party, partisan group, or candidate’s Facebook page, the employee’s page would include links to those entities’ pages, which others could use to get information. Therefore, OSC views such activity as not just an endorsement of the party, group, or candidate, but also akin to circulating those entities’ literature. In addition, if an employee “likes,” or is a “friend” or “fan” of, a political party, partisan group, or candidate’s campaign page, that employee would appear on their pages as well, which we view as an endorsement of a candidate that is done in concert with the campaign. Thus, a further restricted employee may be a “friend: or “fan” of, or “like,” a party, partisan group, or candidate on Facebook in order to receive updates from them, but must take measures to prevent others from accessing such material through his Facebook page.

  • May a federal employee continue to “follow” the official White House Twitter account, or be a “fan” or “friend” of, or “like,” the official White House Facebook page, after the President has become a candidate for reelection?

    Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes, a federal employee may continue to follow the official White House Twitter account, i.e., the account the President uses to comment on his official functions, even after the President begins his reelection campaign. The same is true for being a “fan” or “friend” of, or “liking” the official White House page on Facebook.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Yes. The same answer applies to further restricted employees. Note that the Twitter account @barackobama is not an official Presidential account. Nor is the Facebook page found at http://www.facebook.com/barackobama. Both of these are maintained by Organizing for America, which is a component of the Democratic National Committee, and therefore a partisan political group. Thus, with respect to the @barackobama Twitter account and the “Barack Obama” Facebook page, please see OSC’s responses to the questions, “May a federal employee ‘follow’ the Twitter account of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate’s campaign?”and, “May a federal employee become a “friend” or “fan” of, or “like,” the Facebook page of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate?”

  • May a federal employee “follow” the Twitter account of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate’s campaign?

    Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes. A federal employee may “follow” a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate on Twitter. However, he must not engage in any activity on Twitter with respect to those entities that would otherwise violate the Hatch Act, i.e., activities that would constitute soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time, or that would constitute political activity while on duty or in a federal building.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Yes, but only if the employee’s list of whom he follows is hidden from his followers. The rationale for this condition is that further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. If an employee follows the Twitter account of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate, the employee’s account would include a link to the accounts of whomever he follows. Others could use that link to get information about the party, partisan group, or partisan campaign. Therefore, OSC views such activity as not just an endorsement of those entities, but also akin to circulating their literature. Thus, a further restricted employee may follow a party, partisan group, or partisan candidate on Twitter in order to receive information and updates from those entities, but he must take measures to prevent others from accessing partisan or campaign material through his Twitter account.

  • May a federal employee use an alias to create a Facebook page or Twitter account and be a “fan” of, “like,” or “follow” a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate?

    Answer (Less Restricted Employees): Yes; however, be advised that employees remain subject to the Hatch Act even when they act under an alias. Specifically, federal employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal building. Thus, if they “follow” on Twitter or are a “fan” of, or “like” a party, partisan group, or partisan candidate on Facebook, they should not engage in activities with respect those entities that would constitute “political activity” during duty hours or while in the federal workplace. As explained above, political activity is defined as any activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office. This would include, for example, suggesting that others “follow,” “like” or become a “fan” of the party, partisan group, or candidate, accepting an invitation to a partisan political event, or forwarding the invitation to others.

    In addition, federal employees are prohibited from soliciting, accepting, or receiving political contributions at any time. Thus, if an employee receives an invitation from the candidate to a fundraising event via Facebook or Twitter, the employee would be prohibited from sharing that invitation with others.

    Answer (Further Restricted Employees): Likewise, further restricted employees are subject to the same restrictions regardless of whether they act under an alias. Thus, they may “follow” or “like” a party, partisan group, or partisan candidate under an alias in Facebook or Twitter, but only if he adjusts his privacy settings such that whom he “follows” on Twitter or “likes” or is a “fan” of on Facebook is hidden from others. The rationale for this condition is that further restricted employees are prohibited from taking an active part in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. If an employee follows the Twitter account of a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate, the employee’s account would include a link to the accounts of whomever he follows. Likewise, if he is a “fan” of or “likes” one of those entities on Facebook, a link to those entities’ pages would appear on his page. Others could use those links to get information about the party, partisan group, or candidate. Thus, further restricted employees must adjust their privacy settings accordingly.

  • May a federal employee create a Facebook or Twitter page in his official capacity and advocate for or against a political party, partisan political group, or partisan candidate on the page?

    Answer (All Employees): No. Any page created in an employee’s official capacity (e.g., a Cabinet member) must be limited to official business matters and must remain politically neutral. Advocating for or against a political party, partisan group, or partisan candidate on such a page would constitute a violation of the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using one’s official authority to interfere with or affect the result of an election. Thus, such advocacy must be confined to the employee’s personal Facebook page or Twitter account, subject to the limitations described in response to Questions # 3 and # 5 above.

    For Federal Agencies

  • May a federal agency have a Facebook page that includes a link to the website of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group?

    Answer: No. An agency’s Facebook page, like its official website, should only be used to share information about the agency’s official business and mission and should remain politically neutral. Thus, the Hatch Act would prohibit a federal employee or official from posting on an agency’s Facebook page information about political parties, candidates for partisan political office, or partisan political groups, including links to websites of such individuals or entities.

  • May the agency’s Facebook page include a link to the website of the President’s reelection campaign, political party, or other partisan political group?

    Answer: No. The agency’s Facebook page should only be used to share information about the agency’s official business and must remain politically neutral. When the President is campaigning for reelection, he is not acting in his official capacity as the nation’s Chief Executive Officer. Thus, while the agency’s Facebook page may include news about the President when he is acting in his capacity as the Chief Executive, it may not display news items concerning his candidacy for reelection.

  • May a news article about a federal agency official’s (e.g., Secretary or Administrator) speech at a political fundraiser or a rally for a partisan political candidate be posted on the agency’s Facebook page?

    Answer: No. An agency’s Facebook page, like its official website, should only be used to share information about the agency’s official business and must remain politically neutral. When an agency official engages in political activity, that is, activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan candidate, or partisan political group, he is acting in his personal, and not his official, capacity. Thus, while the agency may post news concerning the official’s efforts to carry out the agency’s mission on the agency’s Facebook page, an article about the official’s speech or attendance at a partisan political event should not be posted on the agency’s Facebook page.

http://www.osc.gov/haFederalfaq.htm

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