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Secty. Sebelius jeopardizes job by endorsing Obama during HRC event in Charlotte

Kathleen Sebelius

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act in February by urging those gathered at a recent Human Rights Campaign gala to reelect President Barack Obama; so said the administration’s own Office of Special Counsel said Wednesday. The problem stems from the fact that Sebelius was acting in her official capacity as a cabinet secretary, rather than as an individual voter.

According to Federal Times, OSC did not recommend a specific punishment. The president will decide what course of action to take. Under the Hatch act, a civil-service system body, the Merit System Protection Board may recommend punishments for violating the law, which is intended to protect civil servants from being unduly influenced by their superiors about how to cast their votes. The president can also choose not to punish the secretary.
OSC told Federal Times that Obama also could choose not to levy any punishment.
The gala was one of many events held in Charlotte, N.C. during and around the time of the Democratic National Convention. Sebilius appeared at the HRC gala to speak as HHS secretary about the ways Obama poicies have helped gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens.
“One of the imperatives is to make sure that we not only come here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years because this effort has just begun,” Sebelius told HRC gala goers so said the Office of Special Counsel’s report on the incident.  “It’s hugely important to make sure that we re-elect the president and elect a Democratic governor here in North Carolina.”
From the Federal Times:
OSC said that if Sebelius had attended the event in a personal capacity — and not representing HHS — her statements would have been permissible. Sebelius also promoted the defeat of North Carolina’s Amendment One, which amended the state’s constitution to outlaw gay marriage, but OSC said that was a nonpartisan statement and did not violate the Hatch Act.
After Sebelius’ comments, HHS retroactively reclassified the event as political. The Democratic National Committee reimbursed HHS for the cost of her travel to Charlotte.
In a Sept. 7 letter to Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner, Sebelius acknowledged that her political statements were a mistake, and said she regretted her “off script” and “off-hand statements.”
But Sebelius said she believes any Hatch Act violations were corrected when the event was reclassified as political. And she said “it seems somewhat unfair to conclude that, as a result of my off-hand statements, I used my official title for political purposes.”
“If there was a violation of the Hatch Act based on the use of my title, I believe the violation was technical and minor,” Sebelius wrote. “These are not the type of violations that the Hatch Act is intended to address.”
In her letter, Sebelius said she appreciated that OSC did not recommend Obama take any particular action and that she believes she should suffer no punishment.
OSC said it found no evidence Sebelius has made any other political statements in her official capacity as secretary.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Ohio, said OSC’s findings “underscore the importance of laws prohibiting mixing official government business with partisan political activity.”
“The committee awaits President Obama’s decision,” Issa said. “As he decides the appropriate consequences for Secretary Sebelius, the president should consider the important leadership role of cabinet secretaries and the example they must set for the entire Executvie Branch.”
This is the highest-profile Hatch Act violation since 2007, when OSC concluded former General Services Administration head Lurita Doan encouraged her agency’s top officials to find ways to help Republican candidates in the upcoming election. President Bush fired Doan in 2008, nearly a year after OSC’s report was issued.







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Posted by on Sep 18, 2012. Filed under Breaking News, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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