Lawsuit: FAA Employees Illegally Campaign for Dems

Administration may be stalling investigation

September 6, 2012

Two appointees to the Federal Aviation Administration have been accused of illegally campaigning for Democrats.

Cause of Action, a nonprofit dedicated to government accountability, announced that it was requesting an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General into two FAA officials: John Hickey, deputy associate administrator for Aviation Safety, and Raymond Towles, deputy director of flight standards field operations.

The two officials are accused of violating the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities while working.

According to Cause of Action’s investigation request, "Mr. Hickey and Mr. Towles encouraged employees to vote for Democratic politicians in upcoming elections, explaining that their jobs may very well depend on a Democratic victory."

The alleged violation occurred on May 23, over three months ago. The Washington Free Beacon has obtained emails between FAA employees showing that the violations had been reported to senior officials by the next day. Dan Epstein, Cause of Action’s executive director, said that the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) has been investigating this accusation since then, but has yet to produce any results.

The OSC reports directly to the President, Epstein said, raising the possibility that the Obama administration is intentionally stalling the investigation until after the election. For this reason, Epstein said, Cause of Action has requested an investigation by the Inspector General, who reports to Congress and whom the president can only fire "for cause."

The OSC could not confirm if there was an investigation into these two individuals, citing a policy against commenting on ongoing investigations.

The Hatch Act states: "No officer or employee in the executive branch of the Federal Government, or any agency or department thereof, shall take any active part in political management or in political campaigns. All such persons shall retain the right to vote as they may choose and to express their opinions on all political subjects." Epstein said that the point of the act is to prevent federal officials from "using federal resources to engage in electioneering activities."

One email by an FAA employee summarized the mandatory meeting with the two officials by saying, "In short if the Republicans win office our jobs may be effected [sic] (furloughs) if the Democrats win office then our jobs would not be effected [sic]."

Richard Painter, a law professor and expert in government ethics, said that this statement was completely inappropriate. "This is at the core of what the Hatch Act is trying to prevent—the tying of government jobs to a political party." He said that it could be appropriate for officials to make budget predictions, but linking individual jobs to a particular political party violates the Hatch Act. The official’s concern should be the good of the FAA, not the preservation of particular jobs.

Epstein pointed out two potential problems with the appointees’ actions: This case is "not just a Hatch Act issue" but also a "potential retaliation issue."

"Because Mr. Hickey and Mr. Towles’s comments to subordinate FAA employees allegedly indicated that their jobs and pay could depend on the election of Democratic politicians, the employees may very well have interpreted the comments as a veiled threat that the FAA would take adverse actions against them should they not vote in accordance with Mr. Hickey and Mr. Towles’s wishes," the investigation request states.

An FAA spokesman said, "The FAA takes Hatch Act violation allegations very seriously and will cooperate fully with any review of the allegations." He refused to offer further clarifying comment on the status of any ongoing investigations.

This is not the first time that allegations of Hatch Act violations have been leveled against the Obama administration.

Update: The story originally stated that Hickey and Towles were Obama appointees. They were not.