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U.S. Office of Special Counsel

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   The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) today announced that—pursuant to a voluntary agreement—Mr. William Yellowtail, Regional Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Denver, Colorado, would be suspended from his position without pay for 100 days, in settlement of OSC’s petition for disciplinary action, alleging a violation of the Hatch Act. OSC’s petition for disciplinary action, filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in April 2000, charged that Mr. Yellowtail violated the Act in February 1998 when he authorized his signature to be placed on a letter soliciting contributions to the campaign of Robert Deschamps for a Montana Congressional seat.

    Mr. Yellowtail was originally appointed to his position as the Regional Administrator, EPA, Denver, CO in January 1994. Mr. Yellowtail resigned from EPA in March 1996, in order to run for Congress. Mr. Yellowtail lost his bid for election. He was appointed back to his former position as Regional Administrator in September 1997. 

    OSC’s petition for disciplinary action alleged that, in February 1998, Mr. Yellowtail met with Robert Deschamps, a candidate for the Montana Congressional seat, and several of Mr. Deschamps’ campaign officials. During that meeting, the participants discussed Mr. Yellowtail’s endorsement of Mr. Deschamps and the solicitation of campaign contributions.
    Shortly after the meeting, an endorsement/fundraising letter was drafted for Mr. Yellowtail’s review and approval. The letter stated, among other things, that “[c]ontributing now to Dusty’s [Deschamps] campaign is absolutely critical.” It urged recipients to “ . . . make a contribution today.”

    OSC’s petition alleged that Mr. Yellowtail reviewed the draft letter and authorized the Deschamps’ campaign to sign his name to it, in violation of the Hatch Act. That Act prohibits federal employees from soliciting political contributions. Subsequently, the campaign distributed the letter to numerous potential supporters of Mr. Deschamps. 

    After OSC filed its petition for disciplinary action against Mr. Yellowtail, on May 26, 2000, EPA placed him on unpaid administrative leave. Mr. Yellowtail remains on such unpaid leave.
Although Mr. Yellowtail has denied, and continues to deny that he knowingly violated the Hatch Act, OSC believes that it has sufficient evidence to prove such a violation, were it to pursue the case before the MSPB. In light of Mr. Yellowtail’s cooperation and willingness to agree to a voluntary disposition, however, OSC has agreed to settle the case without further litigation.

    Under the terms of the settlement agreement between Mr. Yellowtail and OSC, Mr. Yellowtail will remain in a Leave Without Pay status for a total period of one hundred days. His personnel records will reflect that this status was imposed as a result of a Hatch Act settlement. After the terms of the settlement have been accomplished, OSC will withdraw its pending petition before MSPB. 

    Had OSC successfully pursued its petition against Mr. Yellowtail, the possible penalties ranged from a 30-day suspension to removal from employment. In deciding to settle its petition for a 100-day suspension, the OSC considered a number of relevant factors. These included, among others, Mr. Yellowtail’s full cooperation with OSC in its investigation, and the penalties the MSPB has imposed in comparable cases.

    Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan said, “It’s important for federal employees to understand that the Hatch Act prohibits the use of a federal employee’s name on fundraising letters or invitations to fundraisers. Federal employees must scrupulously avoid permitting their names to be associated with such fundraising efforts.” 

    Special Counsel Kaplan emphasized that while OSC stands ready to prosecute violations of the Hatch Act, it prefers to help federal employees avoid such violations. “When in doubt about what is permissible or impermissible under Hatch Act,” Special Counsel Kaplan advised, “I would encourage employees to consult our office. There’s a wealth of information at our website, www.osc.gov, and employees can actually e-mail questions to us.”

(MSPB Docket Number CB-1216-00-0014-T-1.)