WASHINGTON -- The federal ethics agency is telling government workers that they can not accept payment for giving speeches or writing articles, even if the subject is completely unrelated to their work.
"It's fairly common" practice, said Stephen D. Potts, head of the Federal Office of Government Ethics, which issued the directive yesterday.
Federal workers and First Amendment lawyers say the new restrictions, mandated by Congress, violate federal employees' rights of free speech. The maximum penalty for a violation is $10,000 or the amount of payment received.
The ban applies to federal judges as well as to employees of the executive branch, including military officers and civilian employees of the Defense Department.
Potts said the ban was being imposed Jan. 1 as a result of the Ethics Reform Act.