GAP and On The Media’s Campaign Ends with Only Two Suspected Senators Remaining
(Washington, D.C.) – This past weekend, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the NPR show On The Media (OTM) announced an end to their “Blow the Whistle” campaign, which sought to identify which U.S. Senator placed a ‘secret hold’ during the final hours of the last session of Congress, killing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). The crowd-sourcing effort, which relied on citizens to contact their respective senators and report back findings, led GAP and OTM to eliminate all but two senators during the three month campaign.
A shocking revelation about the ‘secret hold’ emerged during the campaign. According to GAP, based on multiple sources inside congressional offices, one of the two remaining senators killed the bill at the request of Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
GAP Legal Director Tom Devine commented, “Whistleblowers risk their professional lives to fight government fraud, waste and abuse. How can taxpayers trust any politician who campaigns on that pledge, and then secretly kills rights for government workers who risk their careers to deliver it? House leadership owes taxpayers an explanation as to why they started sabotaging those campaign promises just weeks after the election, before they even began governing. Even more important, Speaker John Boehner owes taxpayers a commitment that this will not happen again.”
GAP and OTM are able to confirm, based primarily on information from our supporters and listeners (respectively), that all but two senators were not responsible for the hold on the bill. The final, remaining suspects are Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Both Senate offices have steadfastly refused to identify which one formally placed the hold. But the distinction is academic. Four times now since 2004, these two senators have taken turns placing holds that blocked Senate action on the WPEA.
Late last week, GAP ruled out another senator — Republican James Risch of Idaho — based on several conversations with his office. Although Sen. Risch refuses to deny placing the hold (his policy is simply to not comment on secret holds), GAP ruled him out when learning from multiple sources that the hold was placed by Senate Republican leadership at the request of House Republican leadership. Senator Risch’s office confirmed to GAP that the senator had no policy objections to the WPEA last Congress, nor was he working with Senate leadership on the legislation. That left Senators Kyl and Sessions, both part of the Senate leadership team.
“If there’s a silver lining to this procedural loophole, it’s that the hold turned a harsh spotlight on the dismal state of federal whistleblower protections,” said GAP Legislative Campaign Coordinator Shanna Devine. “The WPEA is expected to be reintroduced in the Senate shortly, and now senators have heard directly from constituents about the importance of this legislation.”
The Make It Safe Campaign also has been briefing the staff of new House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R.-Cal.) about the reform’s provisions, and has been impressed by their serious investment of energy to match promises of passage this Congress.
During the waning days of the 111th Congress (December 2010), the Senate passed the WPEA, or S. 372, with unanimous support. The bill was delayed in the House of Representatives for several days, due to unfounded concerns about how the bill would positively affect WikiLeaks. In fact, the WPEA language, at that point, strengthened internal channels for national security workers to report concerns safely to qualified members of Congress. Essentially, the bill would have dissuaded national security employees from going to WikiLeaks by giving them a real and viable option to expose corruption, which they do not currently enjoy.
A bipartisan House agreement was brokered in the 11th hour, and legislation that would only extend coverage to non-intelligence employees for unclassified whistleblowing disclosures passed in the House by unanimous consent. With mere hours left in the lame duck session, the WPEA was sent back to the Senate for a final vote, but this time died at the behest of one anonymous, secret hold.
In January, in partnership with GAP, OTM built an online crowd-sourcing database, calling upon citizens to contact their respective senators, and demand to know if they placed the hold.
The complete results of the campaign, with citizen documentation for each senator, can be viewed here: http://www.wnyc.org/blowthewhistle
The response was overwhelming. After six weeks, the campaign was responsible for eliminating all but five senators from the “suspect list.” That number whittled down to three a few weeks ago, with confirmed denials from Sens. McConnell’s and Vitter’s offices.