In late December, on the final day of last Congress, one anonymous Senator placed a “secret hold” on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). This bill would have strengthened rights for federal employees who report corruption. Federal whistleblowers come forward – often at great personal costs – to warn of anything from contaminated meat to deadly car-seats.
In early December, the Senate actually passed the WPEA (S. 372) through Unanimous Consent – a procedure used to swiftly pass noncontroversial legislation. The bill was then quickly sent to the House. 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 was weaker and less controversial than before – was sent back to the Senate when, hours later, it died at the behest of this anonymous hold.
You may recall exactly what a "secret hold" is – because the process was just reformed under public outcry. 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. Earlier this year, the Senate voted to reform this 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. Senators can still be completely unaccountable for their actions.
But that's not stopping us from making sure the initiator of this indefensible act is held accountable.
In response to the secret hold placed on this bill, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) teamed up with the NPR show On The Media (OTM) to identify the culpable senator. OTM 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. You can see the full results here.
We're down to only two senators whose offices have refused to deny placing the hold. The suspects are:
Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Whistleblowers are the single most effective tool against waste, fraud and abuse. There is no excuse to block legislation that would protect the brave civil servants that protect the public. This legislation would have given federal whistleblowers long overdue and necessary rights (protecting everyone who exposes wrongdoing, not just the "first person"; expanding legal rights for scientific freedom; extending whistleblower protections to tens of thousands more workers, including baggage screeners, etc.).
What we want is simple: Senators to take responsibility for their actions. Please exercise your voice as taxpayers and concerned citizens: Contact these two remaining Senators and demand that they either take responsibility for blocking this government accountability bill, or provide confirmation that they did not place the secret hold.