Election season

Editor’s note: Because it is election season, we are rerunning this column on policies on Fermilab employees’ political activities. The article originally appeared in the Oct. 27, 2010 issue of Fermilab Today.

Gary Leonard, Fermilab general counsel, wrote this column.

Gary Leonard

Election season is upon us. We are inundated by the press and with roadside signs and television spots proclaiming the virtues and vices of various candidates. I encourage all of you, as responsible citizens, to participate in our electoral process. Fermilab even has a time-off voting policy to allow you to make time to participate.

Fermilab employees are also free outside of work to support their favorite candidates and issues in any way they choose. However, please remember that it is illegal to use any Fermilab resources to do so.

Federal legislation, referred to as the Hatch Act, regulates or restricts political activities by federal employees as well as the use of federal property for political purposes. Importantly, while Fermilab employees work for FRA, not the federal government, the property we use is federally owned and the law prohibits the use of any federal property, including buildings, facilities or grounds for political purposes. Department of Energy buildings and property, including any on the Fermilab site, may not be used for campaign activities such as town hall meetings, rallies, speeches, fundraisers, press conferences or photo opportunities. This is true even if a facility has a policy to permit use of some portion of the facilities by the public.

The law also extends to property that has been assigned to you, such as computers, telephones, copiers and even Fermilab’s computing networks. So while Fermilab policy allows incidental personal use of such property, that incidental use would not include the use of such property for political activities. In fact, Fermilab has a policy that governs the use of any laboratory resources for political activities.

We do have political figures on our campus from time to time. Senators and representatives and their staff members come to tour the site and learn about what we’re working on. These are perfectly legitimate activities, although they need to be carefully handled to ensure they cannot be interpreted as or evolve into political events. There is a clear line boundary that must you must not step over.

If you have any questions, please consult with Gary Leonard, Fermilab’s legal counsel.