On December 22nd, 2010, in the face of seemingly unanimous bipartisan support, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (Bill S.372) was killed in the final moments of the last legislative session when a mystery Senator placed what’s called a secret hold on the bill. This bill had already been passed by the House and the Senate, but in the final vote on the reconciled bill, it died and no one had to take responsibility.
Why do we care? Because Bill S. 372 is designed to protect government workers from being punished (as they usually are) for exposing illegality, waste and corruption. It was wildly popular - in public. But a legislator (or legislators) were able to kill it, by using an undemocratic device to hide from their constituents.
On January 7th, On the Media, in conjunction with the Government Accountability Project, launched the Blow the Whistle project, and asked our listeners to call their Senators and ask them if they were responsible for the secret hold which killed this important legislation.
With the help of our listeners we have managed to eliminate all but two Senators, both of whom have said that their policy is not to comment on the placement of anonymous holds. The Government Accountability Project has let us know that this project has had the two-pronged effect in the Senate of making Senators more hesitant to use the secret hold, and bringing new attention to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which is expected to be reintroduced in the Senate shortly.
We would like to thank everyone who helped us by participating in this project. If you have any questions or comments about the project, feel free to comment in the comments section below, or email us at email@example.com.
Below are some links to our stories related to the bill and the project. We will continue to update this site with information on the bill once it's reintroduced in the Senate.
Dec. 3, 2010 - Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project talks to Brooke about the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and the history of federal whistleblower protections in the US.
Jan. 7, 2011 - Tom Devine joins us again to discuss the secret hold that killed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and help us launch the Blow the Whistle project.
Feb. 4, 2011 - Military whistleblower Franz Gayl talks to Brooke about the workplace retaliation he has experienced as a result blowing the whistle on his chain of command for shortages of vital equipment in Iraq.
April 1, 2011 - Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project talks about the Blow the Whistle's impact in Washington and listener Susan Schibler describes trying to get her senator to go on the record about the secret hold.
April 6, 2011 - The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act is reintroduced in the Senate.
November 3, 2011 - House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously approves HR 3289, the Platts-Van Hollen Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011.
November 27, 2012 - The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act is signed into law.
Jon Kyl (AZ)
730 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510 (202) 224-4521
Number of times contacted: 23
Notes: 3-2-2011 – Have yet to make contact with Senator Kyl’s Press Secretary Ryan Patmintra. Several messages have been left with the office. A caller spoke to a staffer named Nat on 1-18-2011 who didn’t think Sen. Kyl was responsible, but could not confirm. Since 2-17-2011, three constituents have received the following letter in reply to inquiries about his role in killing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act: “Thank you for contacting me about the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (S.372) . The Senate passed S. 372 on Dec 14, 2010 and the House passed a different version of the legislation on Dec 22. With only hours left in the session, the Senate did not have sufficient time to review the House’s changes and reconcile the differences between the two bills. “
Jeff Sessions (AL)
335 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING WASHINGTON DC 20510 (202) 224-4124
Number of times contacted: 20
Notes: 3-2-2011 – Jeff Sessions aide Caroline explained to caller on 1-19-2011 that anonymous holds are 'anonymous' and that he is 'very private.' Subsequent calls have gotten similar responses. Have yet to get a response or make contact with Press Secretary Sarah Haley.
3-8-2011 - From the website bamafactcheck.com: Asked whether Sessions is the source of the hold, Sessions spokeswoman Sarah Haley would neither confirm nor deny Tuesday. "As an office policy, we do not comment on holds," she said.
3-9-2011 - George Altman of the Mobile Press-Register received the following from Sessions's Press Secretary Sarah Haley: “This legislation is not pending in the 112th Congress, and you cannot put a hold on a bill that doesn’t exist, so of course we do not have one.” This is not a confirmation that Senator Sessions is denying placing the hold.
James Risch (ID)
4-1-2011: Via the Government Accountability Project: "Senator Risch’s (R-ID) office has since confirmed that the Senator had no policy objections to S. 372 last Congress, nor was he working with Senate leadership on the legislation. The Senator’s office held firm to its policy that “it dos not comment on secret holds”; however, through deductive reasoning, he does not fit the bill, so to speak. In turn, GAP has removed Senator Rischfrom the tapering list of prospective Senators that placed the hold on S. 372."
David Vitter (LA)
3-4-2011: Communications Director Joel DiGrado has confirmed that Vitter did not place the anonymous hold. Thank you to Jonathan Tilove and Bruce Alpert of the New Orleans Times-Picayune for his help in getting this confirmation.
Mitch McConnell (KY)
Notes: 3-8-2011 Senator McConnell's Press Secretary Don Stewart has confirmed that the Senator is not responsible for the secret hold that killed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Full List of Senators' Responses
Click on the headers to resort the columns: