IF you work for the federal government, should you be allowed to participate in political activity at all levels?
For the last 53 years federal employees have been barred from certain political activities. Like all citizens, they have the right to vote, belong to a political party, and contribute to political campaigns.
But they cannot, under a durable, 53-year-old law - the Hatch Act - otherwise participate in politics at the national level. The act, named for its originator, Sen. Carl Hatch (D) of New Mexico, has proscribed electioneering by US government employees at the state and federal levels.
This undemocratic but not necessarily unfair policy bars federal employees from seeking state or federal office - except for nonpartisan state offices.
In recent times there have been three attempts to liberalize the act - in 1975, 1990, and now, 1993; the first attempt was vetoed by Republican President Gerald Ford, the second by George Bush, also Republican.
Now it appears that a similar bill will be sent to Democratic President Clinton. He says he will sign a bill very similar to the one Mr. Bush rejected.
However, this is not necessarily a partisan matter. The 1990 "reform" bill was passed in the House, 333-86. Breaking the House vote down another way, 247 Democrats, 85 Republicans, and one independent said yes; two Democrats and 84 Republicans said no.
The proposed new law would continue to bar federal and postal employees from running for statewide or federal offices. But federal employees would be permitted to run for both partisan and nonpartisan local offices, and nonpartisan state offices.
Members of the Federal Election Commission, which oversees the conduct of national elections, have been granted their request not to be included, in order to safeguard their neutrality.
Sen. John Glenn (D) of Ohio, chairman of the Government Affairs Committee, authored and submitted an alternative bill in the last session and will reintroduce it in the current session, according to a member of his staff.
The Glenn bill retains all the Hatch Act prohibitions against government employees using their jobs to influence other workers, with criminal penalties for violations.
Americans should carefully consider the proposed revisions of the Hatch Act, which has served the body politic well for five decades.
Bush may well have been right when he said that revising the Hatch Act "would inevitably lead to repoliticizing" of the government bureaucracy.