Friday, April 19, 2024
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Railroading the Election: How 1 Small Agency Conforms to Biden’s Get-Out-the-Vote Agenda



Even seemingly obscure federal agencies are working to turn out more voters under President Joe Biden’s executive order on elections. 

The Railroad Retirement Board’s strategic plan includes calls for distributing flyers and posters; keeping metrics on directing individuals to the federal voter registration website Vote.gov; and working with an “equity team” to boost voting among non-English speakers.

The plan also contemplates turning some of 53 field offices across the country into “voter registration agencies,” but a spokesperson says the railroad agency lacks the resources for that. 

The Railroad Retirement Board’s strategic plan to comply with Biden’s Executive Order 14019 was obtained by The Heritage Foundation’s Oversight Project through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. (Heritage is the parent organization of The Daily Signal.)

The Chicago-based railroad board is among the few federal agencies to release such a plan, which may offer a glimpse at how larger government agencies are implementing the president’s executive order to get out the vote.

Although some agencies have announced broad steps to implement Biden’s order, or released limited documents, most have held tight to the strategic plans mandated by the order. 

The Foundation for Government Accountability is suing the Justice Department to obtain access to the required strategic plans.

The Defense Department said it updated an existing strategic plan to fit Biden’s executive order. 

The Pentagon’s strategic plan isn’t dated but appears to have been drafted in 2021 after Biden signed the order that March, weeks after taking office, to direct federal agencies to boost voter registration and voter participation.

Some Republican lawmakers and watchdog groups expressed fears that federal agencies’ involvement in elections would be used to tip the scales for partisan reasons. 

Voting-EO-Strategic-Plan-RRBDownload

Others worry that the order will put federal employees in the awkward position of violating laws such as the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from political activity on government time or using government resources. 

“Biden’s potentially illegal election-interfering executive order is finally coming into fruition, and it’s scarier than we thought,” Roman Jankowski, senior investigative counsel with Heritage’s Oversight Project, told The Daily Signal. 

“If the Biden administration is using the force and scope of a tiny agency like the RRB to drive up the vote,” Jankowski said, “then what do you think he will do with these really large and well-funded federal departments and agencies?”

Among the proposed actions listed in the documents obtained by the Oversight Project: The Railroad Retirement Board’s public affairs office “could also work with field service in determining if and in which states we should send notification of our agreement to be designated as a voter registration agency.”

But the railroad agency currently lacks the resources to make its field offices also serve as voter registration offices, spokesperson Elizabeth Mocek said.

“The RRB’s response to Executive Order 14019 pledged to help promote the vast resources available at Vote.gov,” Mocek told The Daily Signal in a written statement. She added:

In implementing this effort, we added Vote.gov to the footer of our website (RRB.gov) and created a handout promoting Vote.gov to be included in materials distributed at pre-retirement seminars for individuals nearing retirement, and at various meetings and rail labor conventions. We also created a Vote.gov logo to be included in publications issued by Public Affairs, which are available at all field offices.

In 2021, Daniel J. Fadden, senior executive at the Railroad Retirement Board, submitted the plan to Susan Rice, then an assistant to the president for domestic policy. 

The Railroad Retirement Board is a small, independent agency in the executive branch that focuses on administering benefit programs related to retirement, survivorship, unemployment, and sickness for the nation’s railroad workers and their families. 

The agency was created in the 1930s under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1934, the Railroad Carriers and Taxing Act of 1935, and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act of 1938. 

The agency’s public affairs office, along with its Bureau of Information Services, is responsible for implementing Biden’s executive order on voting, according to the strategic plan.

 “Success will be defined by adding the Vote.gov link to the RRB’s website. RRB.gov has tracking metrics that will be utilized to determine how many ‘hits’ the link receives,” the plan says. 

The concept of “equity,” a major focus of agencies during the Biden administration, is included in the railroad board’s elections plan—specifically in helping non-English speakers to vote. 

“The RRB, through the efforts of its Agency Equity Team (AET), recognizes that although the agency does not serve the general public, there are populations of railroad workers that are traditionally underserved,” the strategic plan says. It adds:

Specifically, the RRB has determined that in addition to Spanish-speaking railroad workers, there are workers speaking Navajo and Burmese who may have had difficulty accessing railroad retirement information. In coordination with the efforts of the RRB’s AET, the EO 14019 compliance team believes that providing a direct link to Vote.gov and eventually expanding language options on RRB.gov will allow for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) railroad workers to equitably access information on voter registration.

The railroad board’s document goes on to explain plans for related flyers and posters. 

“We will secure (or produce) flyers, posters, or other materials promoting Vote.gov (or voter registration in general) and make these available to our customers,” the RRB strategic plan says. “Our field offices nationwide are currently closed to the public. When we resume normal operations, we will post this material in all of those offices. We will also include promotional items in informational packages provided at pre-retirement seminars for individuals nearing retirement, and at various meetings and rail labor conventions.”

Earlier this week, the Department of Education released a “toolkit” to expand voting among college students, as well as to provide information about voting for students in K-12. 

Also under Biden’s initiative, the Department of Homeland Security registers new voters during naturalization ceremonies. 

As The Daily Signal previously reported, the Biden administration carved out paid administrative leave to encourage federal bureaucrats and other employees—seen as a loyal Democrat constituency—to volunteer as poll workers during elections. 

The Daily Signal also reported that federal agencies are working with Demos and other liberal advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union