The United States Postal Service (USPS) broke federal law to help Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates during the 2016 election cycle. According to a report by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the USPS “engaged in systemic violations” of the Hatch Act, a federal statute that significantly limits political activities of federal employees.
The investigation was launched after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, brought a constituent complaint to the Office of Special Counsel in October.
The constituent was identified as a USPS employee who alleged the Postal Service “incurred unnecessary overtime costs” and “improperly coordinated” with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). The NALC released members for several weeks of “union official” leave without pay to participate in campaign work.
“The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation. ” — Office of Special Counsel
Collective bargaining terms do permit federal employees to do limited political work while on leave, but the OSC report said USPS showed a “bias” favoring Democrats in 2016. The complaint said the NALC “chose members who [redacted] described as ‘activists’ who were capable of doing this work to participate in the release program in each ‘battleground’ state.”
The OSC agreed the operation was fueled to help Democrats. It specifically cited grassroots campaign work such as door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and other get-out-the-vote efforts.
“The Labor 2016 program sought to ‘elect Hillary Clinton and pro-worker candidates across the country,’” the OSC report concluded.
The investigation turned up 97 members of the NALC who requested leave without pay to participate in grassroots campaigning. The NALC, which endorsed Mrs. Clinton in June of 2016, paid USPS workers using the Letter Carrier Political Fund, which is the union’s PAC (political action committee).
According to the report, 82% of the work took place in 2016 battleground states, including Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Mrs. Clinton lost all but Nevada, where she eked out a win.
Acting Special Counsel Adam Miles also said the NALC provided lists of letter carriers participating in campaign activity to a senior labor relations official, who emailed the lists to USPS officials across the country. Mr. Miles said those local officials “interpreted the communications as directives” from USPS headquarters.
Local supervisors initially voiced their concerns, but were overridden by regional USPS supervisors.
“We concluded that the USPS practice of facilitating and directing carrier releases for the union’s political activity resulted in an institutional bias in favor of NALC’s endorsed political candidates, which the Hatch Act prohibits,” Mr. Miles said in prepared testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.
USPS Postmaster General Megan Brennan claimed in her prepared testimony that USPS did not seek to assist the NALC’s “favored candidates.” She insisted the Hatch Act violations were “unintentional” and that USPS has granted leave for NALC political activity for 20 years.
“As a federal entity, the USPS must remain politically neutral,” Mr. Miles added. “In many localities, the Postal Service is a citizen’s primary point of contact with the federal government, reinforcing the need for strict adherence to the letter and the spirit of the Hatch Act.”
However, as is more often than not the case in Washington D.C., government agencies and officials will not be held accountable for breaking the law. The OSC said “all things considered, disciplinary action is not warranted.”
“OSC identified institutional Hatch Act issues not exclusively attributable to any one employee, so disciplinary action is not appropriate in this case,” the report concluded. “But USPS must prevent future violations through changes in its practices regarding union official LWOP.”