Philadelphia partner Scott Coffina testified before members of the House of Representatives Wednesday, recommending that the Hatch Act be reformed to account for changes brought about by smartphone technology and the prevalence of social media. 

Scott, a former Associate White House Counsel for President George W. Bush, told members of House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that lawmakers should amend the Hatch Act to introduce graduated sanctions for minor infractions, allow state and local officials to run for elected office, address communications mechanisms like smart phones and social media sites, and introduce objective criteria for distinguishing political and official activities by White House and other senior government officials. 

“The ubiquitousness of smartphones creates a real obstacle to enforcing the Hatch Act prohibition on federal employees participating in political activity in the workplace, which literally requires employees to leave the building to make a phone call or send an email for a partisan political cause,” Scott testified. “However, the ease with which the employees can dash off a ‘political’ email from their own personal smartphones (not using government resources) makes the time to go outside seem wasteful and enforcement of this restriction quite impractical.” Thus, the Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, should focus its enforcement efforts on core Hatch Act concerns, such as the improper use of one's authority or of government resources for political ends. 

Scott also cautioned that a federal employee’s “public servant” and “private citizen” personae can overlap in the social media realm, and thus employees using social media sites to express their political views should not identify their official title. 

More generally, Scott testified that "the touchstone of reform ought to be striking the right balance between [government employees'] First Amendment rights and reinforcing those provisions of the Hatch Act that most serve its goals." 

To view a transcript of Scott’s testimony, click here

To watch a recording of the hearing, click here.