Campaign by GAP and On The Media Eliminates All but Five Senators
(Washington, D.C.) – In late December 2010, on the final day of the previous session of Congress, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA), S. 372, which would have strengthened rights for federal employees who report corruption, was killed by a lone senator's decision to place an anonymous "secret hold" on the bill.
In response to this action, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) worked with the NPR show On The Media to identify the senator responsible for killing the bill. On The Media asked its listeners, and GAP asked its supporters, to contact their respective senators’ offices and demand to know if they were the party who wrongfully killed this paramount legislation. Correspondence with offices has been reported by On The Media’s “Blow the Whistle” campaign website at http://www.wnyc.org/blowthewhistle/
So far, 82 out of 87*** Senate offices have confirmed that they were not the party responsible for placing the secret hold. This leaves only five senators:
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
James Risch (R-ID)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
David Vitter (R-LA)
*** The campaign website (http://www.wnyc.org/blowthewhistle/) contains contact information for the 87 individuals who continue to serve in the Senate from last term, omitting the 13 senators who did not return. Through internal connections and previous correspondences, GAP is confident that these 13 individuals are very unlikely to have placed the hold. However, if all current senators are eliminated, GAP will obtain specific confirmation at that time from each of these 13 individuals.
“Once identified, the senator who secretly shielded secret government owes taxpayers an explanation and an apology," stated GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “There no longer is credible debate that whistleblowers are the nation's best resource against bureaucratic waste, abuse and resulting deficits. Some senators seem to think it is none of their constituents’ business whether they honored the voters' mandate, a month after the elections. That would be a horrible mistake.”
On December 10, 2010, the Senate passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S. 372) through Unanimous Consent – a procedure used to swiftly pass noncontroversial legislation. The bill was then quickly sent to the House of Representatives. However, red herring national security concerns that the bill would provide comfort for WikiLeaks sparked additional, last-minute changes. On December 22, 2010, the final day of the Congressional session, a bipartisan House agreement was brokered in the 11th hour. This modified legislation, which extended coverage only to non-intelligence employees, then passed in that chamber, also by Unanimous Consent. The WPEA was sent back to the Senate for a final vote when, hours later, it died at the behest of one anonymous hold.
Under the rules of the last Congress, the ‘secret hold’ process allowed a single senator to anonymously hold a bill for up to six days. This timeframe allowed a senator to secretly block legislation at session’s end -- effectively killing it -- before the requirement becomes operative. Furthermore, senators often "laundered" holds by tag-team tactics, taking turns invoking a hold for five days at a time. Recently, the Senate voted to reform the ‘secret hold’ procedure, and now anonymous holds can only be placed for up to 48 hours. Unfortunately, this reform would not have prevented the anonymous hold placed on S. 372, because it took place hours before Congress adjourned.
What the Hold Killed
The WPEA would have given federal whistleblowers long overdue and necessary rights. Just some of the cornerstones of the legislation include:
- Closing loopholes to protection, such as canceling a requirement that whistleblower protection only extends to the "first" person who discloses specific misconduct.
- Providing Title 5 workers access to federal district court jury trials to challenge major disciplinary actions.
- Ending the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals' monopoly on appellate review of the Whistleblower Protection Act, which is responsible for the Court's 3-210 track record against whistleblowers.
- Expanding legal rights to include protection for scientific freedom, as well as extending the coverage of those rights to a greater number of employees, including 40,000 TSA baggage screeners.
GAP Legislative Coordinator Shanna Devine, who has led GAP’s side of the campaign to identify the secret Senator, explained “It should come as no surprise that this reform has been killed in the backrooms in every Congress since 2004. What politician wants to take credit for blocking legislation that would curtail government waste, fraud and abuse? This Congress rallied behind secret hold reform, now it must demonstrate the same leadership through the re-introduction and swift passage of the WPEA."