Bush Vetoes Easing of Rules on Federal Workers Politicking
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said he must ensure the ″integrity of the civil service″ as he vetoed a bill relaxing 51-year-old curbs on the off-duty political activity of government workers.
Two days after the Senate upheld his 11th veto, an authorization bill for Amtrak, Bush cast the 12th veto of his presidency. No Bush veto has yet been overturned.
″The Hatch Act has upheld the integrity of the civil service by assuring that federal employees are hired and promoted based upon their qualifications and not their political loyalties,″ he said Friday in a veto message to Congress.
Robert Tobias, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, representing federal employees in 16 agencies and departments, called the veto ″wrongheaded″ and urged the Senate to override it.
Tobias urged lawmakers to ″hold fast to their commitment to federal workers.″
He said in a statement, ″Senators must maintain their courageous support of reform and not trade their collective conscience for White House cuff links or breakfast with Bush.″
Republican leaders have said they expect to be able to sustain the veto, even though the bill passed by more than the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to override.
The Hatch Act revision would affect 3 million federal employees and postal workers, who are now prohibited from participating in any form of political activity beyond voting.
Sent to Bush by a 334-87 House vote on Wednesday, the bill would allow government employees to work in political campaigns on their own time, hold office in a political party and attend political conventions.
However, the measure would leave intact prohibitions against running for partisan political office and soliciting money from the public.
Sponsors said the measure would extend some of the same fundamental freedoms now enjoyed by most Americans to federal and postal workers.
But Bush said he was opposed to any tinkering with the Hatch Act, passed in 1939 to prevent Depression-era government workers from being pressured to work for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s re-election effort.
Bush said the easing would ″inevitably lead to re-politicizing″ the government bureaucracy.
″It has been manifestly successful over the years in shielding civil servants and the programs they administer from political exploitation and abuse,″ Bush wrote.
″We cannot afford, in the final decade of this century, to embark on a retreat into the very worst aspects of public administration from the last century,″ he said.
The Senate passed the same bill last month by a vote of 67-30. That would be just enough for a veto override. But GOP Senate leaders have expressed confidence they can persuade one or two of their colleagues to change votes.
In sending the bill back to Congress with a veto, Bush told lawmakers: ″As one who has devoted much of his life to public service, I take great pride in the integrity of our federal work force.″