FEDERAL AGENCIES

EPA chief of staff hit campaign trail for Trump

EPA chief of staff Mandy Gunasekara has been tweeting allegations about Democrats stealing votes this week from Pennsylvania, a pivotal battleground state that's still counting ballots.

On Twitter on Monday night, she declared, "I spent the day with an amazing group of patriots preparing for a big win in PA tomorrow." She included a hashtag for "Make America Great Again," the Trump campaign slogan.

The tweet's location information said it was from Conshohocken, a suburb of Philadelphia whose ballots are crucial to the White House race as it could swing Pennsylvania and the presidency to former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic nominee who is nearing 270 Electoral College votes.

Gunasekara tweeted on Election Day about "Long lines in PA!!" and urged voters to stay the course. That tweet's location information said it came from Blue Bell, another Philadelphia suburb.

Gunasekara's biography on her Twitter account notes her official EPA title but adds, "Opinions are my own."

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Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, said Gunasekara's "infraction" against the Hatch Act, which bars the use of government resources for political activities, is nothing new in the Trump era.

"Trump Administration officials started breaking laws like the Hatch Act nearly the moment they took power, and the EPA chief of staff should face consequences for this latest infraction, along with all of her colleagues that broke the law before her," she wrote via email.

Gunasekara said she is on her own time.

"There are no Hatch Act concerns. I've taken leave and am spending my personal time working alongside dedicated patriots to keep this country on the path of greatness," Gunasekara told E&E News in a text message, including an American flag emoji.

Gunasekara's EPA email account said in an automatic reply that she was out of the office from Monday through Friday this week.

EPA spokesman James Hewitt told E&E News, "The agency does not comment on activities engaged in by our employees on their personal time."

Gunasekara has also tweeted about allegations of tampering with the vote, including some posts that have been tagged as sharing content misleading about the election. "How many democrat votes do you think will be discovered tonight while the counting is suspended?" she asked in another tweet.

On Election Day, Gunasekara said she overheard a conversation among Democrats watching the mail-in ballots being counted. They said, she wrote, "We need to slow this down and screw it up."

"They don't even try to hide what they are doing and know @realDonaldTrump is winning! We won't let them steal it!" she said, adding the Twitter handle for the Philadelphia Republican Party.

Gunasekara didn't respond to a follow-up question from E&E News about whether she reported the matter to election authorities.

The chief of staff has come under scrutiny for alleged political activities during her prior role at EPA under the Trump administration.

Gunasekara was a senior EPA air official who resigned in 2019 before returning this year as chief of staff. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility charged that her resignation letter then advocated for President Trump's reelection and its distribution by EPA press aides violated the Hatch Act by using government time for politics.

The Office of Special Counsel dismissed the complaint in September last year (Greenwire, Feb. 25).

Gunasekara is among several top Trump officials who watchdog groups allege have broken the law.

Last week Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette toed the ethics line in a Fox News interview in which he said Biden would take the U.S. "back into a state of dependence on the Middle East." The agency did not respond to a request for comment about the interview (Energywire, Oct. 27).

Campaign attire allowed

The Hatch Act, however, does permit employees to wear campaign flair like Biden attire or Trump's Make America Great Again hats to work now that Election Day is over, according to a memo yesterday from the Office of Special Counsel.

"[W]hile presidential candidates may retain their status as candidates well past Election Day, OSC has consistently advised that, with rare exception, post-Election Day activities showing support for or opposition to a presidential candidate will not affect the result of the election for that office," the memo says.

Employees are also now permitted to express "views about the election results or the presidential candidates" at the office, the memo says.

However, it also notes the Hatch Act continues to prohibit government employees from engaging in political activities while on the job.

That includes social media. Although it's not addressed in the recent memo, the OSC website says federal employees on duty cannot "post a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group."

"On duty" extends to being in a federal building, wearing an official uniform or using a federally owned car.

Twitter: @KevinBogardusEmail: kbogardus@eenews.net

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