Amendment Needed to Expose Efforts Blocking Whistleblower Legislation

The Government Accountability Project is hailing an 84-13 vote by the Senate this past Tuesday, March 28, which approved an amendment to S. 2349, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006, that will require senators to publicly acknowledge their efforts to block normal proceedings on legislation.

The amendment, sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and James Inhofe (R-OK) addresses an informal Senate practice, which currently allows senators to place an anonymous “hold” on legislation in order to silently paralyze a bill’s progress without public debate on the merits of the proposal.

“At the end of a congressional session, legislation involving vast sums of money or the very freedoms on which our country relies can die just because of a secret hold in the Senate,” commented Sen. Wyden.

As a case in point, the 107th (2001-02) and 108th (2003-04) Congresses ended without a vote or debate on legislation to amend the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), despite its unanimous committee approval, because of a secret “hold” put in place by Senate leadership.

In April 2005, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed nearly identical legislation, S. 494, to restore the WPA for the third time. Like its predecessors, S. 494 is being held from further consideration by Senate leadership.

“This process is being abused and needs to stop,” said GAP Legal Director Tom Devine. “Congress has repeatedly made the public policy choice to protect whistleblowers. If given a chance to vote again, it almost certainly will approve this good government bill without dissent.”

The Republican leadership, which voted against yesterday’s amendment, argues that secret ‘holds’ are necessary to give members enough time to review legislation before a vote.

“In the case of S. 494, the Senate has had over four years to read less than 30 pages of legislation,” commented GAP Advocacy Associate Adam Miles. “Enough is enough. It’s time for an ‘up or down’ vote on this bill.”

In 1989 and 1994, Congress voted unanimously to pass and amend the Whistleblower Protection Act. Since, contentious court rulings by the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals have undermined the whistleblower protections Congress intended, creating a need for the current reforms proposed in S. 494.