Calvert County residents can enter local...

Newswatch. . . ON FEDERAL WORKERS

May 27, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON NO FOR PEROT: — Calvert County residents can enter local campaigns

WASHINGTON -- Federal employees who live in Calvert County, Md., soon will be permitted to run for local office as independent candidates and participate in local campaigns of independents, despite a law that exempts most government workers from such activities.

The Office of Personnel Management recently decided to exempt Calvert County residents from certain provisions of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal workers from engaging in most political activities. Supporters of the Hatch Act believe that workers could be coerced by their employers into becoming politically involved.

el,.5l The exemption granted to Calvert County already applies to a number of other municipalities in Maryland and Virginia that have large populations of civil servants. The political systems of these areas could be "inhibited" by having a large proportion of residents who cannot participate, said Michael Orenstein, an OPM spokesman.

OPM's decision, which takes effect June 18, was made in response to a request from the five Calvert County commissioners, Mr. Orenstein said.

"Candidacy . . . shall not result in neglect of, or interference with, the performance of the duties of the employee," the OPM decision stated. Nor can holding local office "create a conflict or apparent conflict of interest."

Federal workers are prohibited under the Hatch Act from campaigning for H. Ross Perot, even though he is not affiliated with any political party, because his campaign is a partisan effort, according to OPM spokesman Orenstein.

Mr. Orenstein said the Hatch Act defines a partisan race for elective office as one in which at least one candidate represents a major party that received electoral votes in the previous election.

If Perot would run for a Calvert County office, however, local residents who are federal employees could work for him.

Administrative judges:

Federal workers don't have access to a fair employee complaint process because administrative judges lack legal protections "to ensure the impartiality and independence of their decisions," according to Rep. George W. Gekas, R-Pa.

Mr. Gekas last week introduced a bill that would give Merit Systems Protection Board administrative judges the same legal status as administrative law judges.

The board has direct oversight of the firing, suspension and pay of its 62 judges, based on reviews of the judges' decisions.

"The results of these reviews may influence a judge's overall performance rating and pay," said Mr. Gekas.

Administrative law judges, on the other hand, are drawn from a government-wide pool, making them relatively free from pressure by a particular agency. Also, their decisions are not subject to review, and their removal or suspension must be proved to be "for good cause," Mr. Gekas said.

Extending these protections to the board's judges would help "keep them free from political influence," he said.

The board's judges hear appeals from federal employees claiming that they have been fired or otherwise discriminated against because of "whistleblower" activities. The judges also rule on sexual harassment and equal employment opportunity cases.

About two-thirds of the full-time federal civilian work force, or about 2 million people, depend on the judges' decisions, Mr. Gekas said.

Under the bill, the board's judges would earn the same salary as administrative law judges, who currently are paid much more, according to Matt Shannon, counsel to the clerk of the merit system board.

Currently, the board's judges can reach the salary level of administrative law judges only through cash bonuses that are awarded to them based on their reviews, Mr. Gekas said.

In making the case for his bill, Mr. Gekas told the House that in a 1987 survey, 42 percent of female and 14 percent of male federal employees reported receiving "uninvited and unwelcome sexual attention."

From May 1985 to May 1987, the sexual harassment cost the federal government an estimated $267.3 million because of job turnover, lost productivity, sick leave and other factors, Mr. Gekas said.

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