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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Probe finds Sebelius broke federal law

By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: September 12, 2012 - 5:00 pm ET

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has concluded that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius violated federal law when she made “extemporaneous partisan remarks” (PDF) during a speech she gave last February in Charlotte, N.C., in her official capacity as head of HHS.

According to the OSC's letter to President Barack Obama, Sebelius violated the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits federal employees from using their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election. The full report noted that Sebelius was asked to serve as the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign—a not-for-profit organization that works to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans—Gala on Feb. 25 in her official role as secretary.

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In her remarks, Sebelius spoke about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the administration's actions on policies such as the repeal of “Don't Ask Don't Tell” and its decision to no longer support the Defense of Marriage Act. But she diverted from her prepared outline, the report said, when she made the following remarks: “One of the imperatives is to make sure that we not only come together here in Charlotte to present the nomination to the president, but that we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years.” The OSC noted that HHS subsequently reclassified the trip from an official one to a political one.

On Tuesday, HHS responded to the investigation with the following statement: “The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released its findings today on extemporaneous remarks made by the Secretary on February 25, 2012, at a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) event. As was previously announced and at the direction of the Secretary, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reclassified the event as political and the U.S. Treasury was reimbursed for all travel expenses.”

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner wrote in her letter to the president that OSC found no other evidence that Sebelius made any other political remarks in her capacity as secretary, and that "as the upcoming elections approach, this report offers an opportunity to remind federal employees of the complex Hatch restrictions."

An independent agency, the OSC's authority comes from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act.

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