Special Agent John Dodson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) wants to publish a book about the the “Fast & Furious” scandal. ATF, like many federal agencies, has a policy limiting outside employment opportunities. At the very least, this policy means that Dodson needs ATF approval if he wants to get paid for publishing the book. (I’ve co-authored several items with a DoJ attorney who is subject to a similar policy.) Under current doctrine, government employees do not enjoy the same free speech rights as private citizens, at least when the speech is related to their employment. (See generally Garcetti v. Ceballos.)
Thus far, the ATF has refused to grant such permission to Dodson, on the grounds that the book could have “a negative impact on morale” within the agency and could have “a detremental effect [sic] on [ATF] relationships” with other agencies. This has prompted an objection from the ACLU, which argues the ATF policy violates Dodson’s First Amendment rights. According to a letter the ACLU sent ATF, “the ATF’s written guidelines for outside employment authorizations are constitutionally inadequate, and that their application to Agent Dodson’s publication request resulted in impermissible censorship of the speech of a public employee.” According to this AP report, ATF is still considering whether Dodson can publish the book if he does not receive payment.