Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today sent a letter to John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), requesting that the agency issue regulations to implement the Congresswoman's recently enacted Hatch Act National Capital Region Parity Act. The bill, which was enacted as part of a larger Hatch Act reform bill, authorizes OPM to permit federal employees who live in the District of Columbia to run for partisan political office in local elections as independents. OPM has had this authority for federal employees in Maryland and Virginia since the 1940s, and has permitted federal employees who live in 75 Maryland and Virginia cities and towns to do so. The purpose was to avoid limiting citizen participation in local governments in jurisdictions with large numbers of federal employees. Until Norton's bill, OPM did not have the authority to permit federal employees living in the District to seek local partisan office, because the city did not have self-government and local elections when OPM was given this authority for Maryland and Virginia.
"This legislation expands equality for D.C. residents and for the District," Norton said. "It gives federal employees here the same rights as federal employees in the region, and it gives the District a maximum pool of residents to participate in local government which regional governments have long enjoyed."
The full text of Norton's letter follows.
January 10, 2013
The Honorable John Berry
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
1900 E Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20415
Dear Director Berry:
Thank you for your extensive work on behalf of federal employees. I write to follow up on the enactment of the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012 (S. 2170), which was signed by the President on December 28, 2012 (P.L. 112-230). Among other things, the bill authorizes the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to issue regulations to partially exempt federal employees residing in the District of Columbia from the Hatch Act's prohibition on federal employees participating in local elections for partisan office. I ask that you issue regulations adding the District to the list of designated localities in which federal employees may participate in local partisan elections (5 C.F.R. § 733).
As you know, in the 1940s, Congress gave OPM the authority to exempt federal employees in towns in Maryland, Virginia and the immediate vicinity of the District, and those in towns in which the majority of voters are federal employees, from the Hatch Act's prohibition on federal employees participating in local partisan elections. The rationale was that towns with high concentrations of federal employees should not be left without a significant percentage of their residents able to participate in local affairs. OPM was not given the authority to exempt federal employees living in D.C., however, because the city did not have home rule or local elections at the time. Since the passage of the Home Rule Act of 1973, the District has had local elections and a home-rule government. Therefore, as noted in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report accompanying the Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012, "it is now time to more precisely align the Hatch Act's mandates with the current structure of the D.C. government."
These regulations are necessary to give federal employees who live in the District the opportunity to participate in our local government, as other federal employees in the region have long been afforded, and to allow the District to benefit from their participation. The city has one of the highest concentrations of federal employees in the Washington metropolitan region. Therefore, the "special or unusual circumstances" required to permit federal employees to participate in local elections are as strong here as in the 75 towns in Maryland and Virginia in which OPM permits federal employees to participate in local partisan elections.
We would appreciate your early attention to this matter.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
CC: The Honorable Carolyn Lerner, U.S. Office of Special Counsel