Fall TV preview: 'The Stupid Feds Show'

Monday - 8/9/2010, 4:00am EDT

I'm working on a TV reality show -- which I naturally will host and become rich from -- with a twist. There won't be any contrived and scripted tribes of people 'stranded' on a desert island a la Lord of the Flies. We aren't going to switch spouses putting a stern task master with a family of slobs. We won't have fair maidens deciding between a jock and a nerd.

No!

This will be real reality. Actually after-the-fact situations which we may just tell straight out, or maybe (once the big buck sponsors latch on) reenact.

Details.

The show should write itself. It will target one of the most unpopular-with-the-public groups: federal workers. If that works -- and how can it not? -- we can do a spinoff with even less respected professions such as politics, lawyers and the news media.

Many of the true life scenarios for this Stupid Feds Show will be drawn from cases of government workers -- white collar, postal and blue collar -- who let their political zeal overpower their common sense. We're talking violations of the Hatch "no politics" Act.

It is a much modified -- and watered down -- 70 year old law which says federal workers (and officials) shouldn't get political at the office. No buttons, badges or posters. No recruiting or arm-twisting and definitely no fund raising at the office or on federal facilities.

This should be a no-brainer. But every year, and especially in election years, dozens of U.S. Government workers -- Republicans and Democrats -- cross the line. Some get away with it. Others get caught.

Example:

During the 2008 presidential campaign an IRS revenue agent sent an e-mail -- from his office on his government computer -- "to numerous individuals, including co-workers" soliciting financial contributions financial for the campaign of candidate Barack H. Obama. In the e-mail he included his name, agency, title, duty location and telephone number. It also linked to three campaign donation sites which took credit cards. So you could donate, if you liked, from your government office. While working.

Whatever your politics, imagine getting a request for funds from an IRS agent!!!

The guy was eventually fired and he appealed his case to the Merit Systems Protection Board. This is where it gets really good.

He admitted doing it, but said he didn't know it would be a problem. He said at best he should get a 30 day suspension because there was no deliberate disregard" of the Hatch Act. Besides, he said, the feds on his e-mail list were not subordinates and he didn't coerce anybody. Also he said he was really sorry and wouldn't do it again.

He agreed that the IRS had, four days earlier, had given employees a pamphlet entitled Plain Talk About Ethics" which included information on the Hatch Act. He got it, he said, but he didn't read it.

Bottom line, he is no longer collecting money for Uncle Sam.

One problem with my planned TV series: A woman named Elaine Kaplan. She's general counsel for the Office of Personnel Management. She's trying to educate employees as to the perils of politics at the office. She recently issued a warning which -- if enough people follow it -- will doom me to a life of sweating over a hot key board. Here's what she said.

Please do not pass it on:

"In view of the upcoming Congressional, state, and local elections this November, it is a good time to remind OPM employees about the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-7326) and its implementing regulations (5 C.F.R. Part 734).

Non-SES employees:

The Hatch Act and its implementing regulations allow the majority of Federal employees to participate actively in most partisan political activities, so long as they are off duty and not on Federal property. OPM employees who are not career senior executives may:

  • be candidates for public office in nonpartisan elections
  • register and vote as they choose
  • assist in voter registration drives
  • express opinions about candidates and issues
  • contribute money to political organizations
  • attend political fundraising functions
  • attend and be active at political rallies and meetings
  • join and be an active member of a political party or club
  • sign nominating petitions
  • campaign for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, municipal ordinances
  • campaign for or against candidates in partisan elections
  • make campaign speeches for candidates in partisan elections
  • distribute campaign literature in partisan elections
  • hold office in political clubs or parties