The Office of Special Counsel found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra violated federal law.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner sent a letter to President Biden regarding his HHS Secretary’s violation of the Hatch Act by publicly expressing his support for the re-election of California Democratic Senator Alex Padilla while appearing in an official capacity.
“As explained in the attached report, the CSO has found that Secretary Becerra violated the Hatch Act by expressing his support for the re-election of Senator Alex Padilla while speaking in his official capacity at the annual gala of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute awards on September 15, 2022,” Kerner wrote.
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“The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to influence the outcome of an election,” Kerner continued. “In delivering his speech, Secretary Becerra inadmissibly mixed his personal electoral preference with official remarks.”
“While federal employees are permitted to express support for candidates when speaking in a personal capacity, Hatch law prohibits employees from doing so when speaking as a government official,” he added.
Kerner wrote that with “a presidential election approaching next year, this report provides an opportunity to deter violations by reminding federal employees at all levels of the Hatch Act restrictions.”
“Accordingly, I submit the attached report, together with Secretary Becerra’s response, for your consideration,” Kerner concluded in the letter.
In his response to OSC, Becerra called his remarks an “inadvertent violation” and said he regretted it, and that while he “did not realize at the time that my off-the-cuff remarks” regarding his “personal voting intentions were in violation of the Hatch Act.
“I now understand why they weren’t allowed,” Becerra said, also saying he received “additional guidance” from the HHS Ethics Department on the Hatch Act. Becerra said he would “work hard to ensure there are no future violations.”
Padilla arrived in the Senate after Vice President Kamala Harris left the chamber to join the Biden administration.
Becerra’s policies have come under fire from congressional Republicans, who questioned him last month about his agency’s remote work policies.
Becerra has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the percentage of its workforce still telecommuting, more than three years into the COVID pandemic and at a time when many offices are back to work.
During a budget hearing at the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., repeatedly asked Becerra how many HHS employees were still working from home, but got nowhere.
“This is a photo taken at 10:40 a.m. last Monday at HHS headquarters. It’s, like, empty,” Cassidy said, showing a photo of an empty lot. He later clarified that it was the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Headquarters parking lot.
“Can you give a breakdown of how many full-time employees are at their desks in any of these buildings each day?” Cassidy asked.
“Senator, when you look at the HHS workforce, and we’re almost 90,000 across the country, and working in various parts of the country, some here at headquarters…by the way, at headquarters…” Becerra began.
“I don’t have much time,” Cassidy interrupted him. “So tell me, what percentage of employees are at their desks…on any given day?”
“Our people work full time,” Becerra said.
“No, but how many are at their desks instead of being at home, or somewhere else, in a café or whatever?” Cassidy tried again.
“What we make sure we care about is that they perform and they deliver…” Becerra said.
“That doesn’t really answer my question, because I know current best practice in many industries is to keep people coming back. So is it 5%, is it 10%, is it 1%? How many people are actually sitting at their desks in a government building while working full time every day? Cassidy tried for the last time.
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“And we have people who, as they work full time…” Becerra began before being interrupted again.
“Obviously, sir, you don’t want to answer that question, and I don’t mean to be rude, but you don’t, and it’s begging that the answer might not be flattering,” Cassidy said.
Fox News Digital’s Peter Kasperowicz contributed reporting.
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