Political activity guidelines for active-duty Airmen, civil service members

  • Published
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- “As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper explained in a Feb. 5 memo this year.

“However, as public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles, we uphold DOD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities,” he added.

“Maintaining the hard-earned trust and confidence of the American people requires us to avoid any action that could imply endorsement of a political party, political candidate or campaign by any element of the Department,” Esper wrote.

During this presidential election year, a variety of rules and guidelines apply to Airmen and civil service members. As Secretary Esper pointed out, while everyone has the right to have opinions and to vote, certain rules and restrictions govern how those directly involved in the nation’s defense conduct themselves.

Those rules and restrictions are found in Air Force Instruction 51-508, “Political Activities, Free Speech and Freedom of Assembly of Air Force Personnel.”

Air Force military members should pay particular attention to paragraph 2.3, “Permitted Activities,” and paragraph 2.4, “Prohibited Activities.”

Air Force military members who engage in any of the prohibited activities are subject to prosecution under Article 92, Uniform Code of Military Justice, in addition to any other applicable provision of the UCMJ or Federal law.

Air Force military members, civilians and even contractors are prohibited from engaging in demonstrations or other activities within military installations, which could result in interference with, or prevention of, the orderly accomplishment of a mission of the installation. The prohibition also covers activities which present a clear danger to loyalty, discipline or morale of members of the Armed Forces.

Air Force military members are also prohibited from participating in demonstrations when they are on duty, when they are in a foreign country, when they are in uniform, when their activities constitute a breach of law and order or when violence is likely to result.

Federal civilian employees are subject to the Hatch Act. Violators of the Hatch Act may be subject to discipline, to include potential removal from federal service, for violating its provisions.

The following general rules also apply to social media.

Employees may not engage in political activity while on duty or in the workplace. Political activity is an activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate in a partisan race, or partisan political group.

Modest bumper stickers on personal vehicles are generally acceptable if they do not present a clear danger to the good order and discipline of the installation, or to loyalty, discipline or morale of members of the Armed Forces.

Reasonable and occasional “off line” personal conversations about political matters can be acceptable in limited circumstances, if they are welcome and not expressly or impliedly coercive in nature.

Employees may not knowingly solicit, accept or receive a political contribution for a political party, candidate in a partisan race or partisan political group either on or off duty.

Employees may not use their official authority or influence to affect the outcome of an election either on or off duty.

For more information, contact the Vance Legal Office at 580-213-7404.