Thursday, September 20, 2012

Katherine Sebelius Violated Her Hatch Act

Monday morning the government watchdog, Cause of Action, declared that President Obama should fire Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius, or at the very minimum, suspend her for 30 days without pay. Sebelius is being accused of violating her Hatch Act. Rumors of the possibility of impeachment are swirling around Washington if the President doesn’t act quickly.

Last Wednesday, the U.S Office of Special Counsel issued a statement claiming that Sebelius violated the law when she endorsed the President’s reelection campaign, and the campaign of North Carolinian Lieutenant Governor Candidate Walter Dalton during a tax-payer funded public event on February 25th, 2012.

Generally, the penalty for violating the Hatch act is termination from office. However, the White House suggested that President Obama would offer Sebelius ‘special treatment’ which would allow her to keep her job.
According to the Counsel:
“Any employee who violates the Hatch Act shall be removed from their position, and funds appropriated for the position from which removed thereafter may not be used to pay the employee or individual.”
Federal employees, who are not politically appointed by the President and confirmed by the senate, are generally allowed to have their penalties lessened:
“If the Merit Systems Protection Board finds by unanimous vote that the violation does not warrant removal, a penalty of not less than a 30-day suspension without pay shall be imposed by direction of the board.”
The executive director of Cause of Action, Dan Epstein said this concerning Sebelius:
“Thus the point is that by close of business on Sept. 12, 2012, the president has been informed of a Hatch Act violation and yet has decided not to fire Sebelius. The president has therefore decided to overlook the improper political activities of his appointees when in their official capacities. He has effectively said it is okay to politicize the executive branch.”
Cause of Action also declared this when issuing their statement:
“In an unprecedented situation like the present one, the President takes ‘appropriate action’ by substituting himself into the role of the MSPB – in other words ‘appropriate action’ means that the president must suspend Secretary Sebelius for at least 30 days or remove her from office.” 
“By taking neither option, the President has, in effect, sent a message to the public that his Cabinet is superior to the law and that either his ethics pledge was a farce or that Sebelius is exempt from complying with the Executive Order,” the memo continues. “Moreover, Secretary Sebelius, in her letter to the OSC, disagreed with the conclusion that she committed a Hatch Act violation. It would appear that Secretary Sebelius is openly opposed to following the high standards of ethics she took an oath to the President to follow. Alternatively, the President has sanctioned her activity.”
The memo states that Congress can step in and push for accountability if it is determined that the President “fails to take ‘appropriate action’ to punish Secretary Sebelius” and “Secretary Sebelius fails to acknowledge that she violated the law.” The memo concludes that Congress can decide to impeach Sebelius if they so deem it is so the appropriate action.

Cause of Action also acknowledged that Sebelius violated President Obama’s “Ethics Pledge.” The group says that all of Obama’s political appointees were required to sign the pledge, “concerning lobbying activities while also seeking consensus from his political appointees that they understood the federal ethics rules.”
“Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signed this pledge,” Cause of Action said in their memo. “Secretary Sebelius did not receive a waiver from the restrictions agreed to by signing the pledge. And yet on February 25, Secretary Sebelius, using her official position, engaged in direct lobbying when she supported the defeat of North Carolina’s Amendment One. While this statement does not violate the Hatch Act, it would appear to be inconsistent with Secretary Sebelius’s ethical promise to the President.”
At least one member of Congress has publically called for the president to treat Sebelius as any other Hatch Act violator – with termination from her position. It’s time for President Obama to stand up and play the man–either he abides by the ethics code, or ignores it at his own risk. But Congress can’t let him get away with doing nothing.

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