Tips For Tracking Down Anonymous Holds

Tom Devine, Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project is no stranger to confronting Senators. So, to help us with On the Media’s “Blow the Whistle” project, he has given us a list of tactics that GAP uses to help callers get the answers when they want when calling their Senators.

  1. Call the main number for each Senator and say “in response to a public radio program we're checking to see if that office put a hold on S. 372, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, and would like to speak with the relevant staffer who worked on the bill.”
  2. If there is any active or passive resistance (i.e., staffer is unavailable, etc.), we explain that unless we can receive a "no" answer to the question, we will report that senator's non-response as a passive admission by refusing to deny the hold.
  3. We're persistent! We keep trying to reach the staffer until you connect. Sometimes it takes a few days, but with reminders that we don't want to unfairly hold them responsible for killing the taxpayer reform merely due to a communications gap, sooner or later we always talk to each other.
  4. Once there's a dialogue with the right staffer, we just ask directly. Sometimes they'll say they didn't do it, but it's possible their boss did without telling them. The fallback to that or any other non-answers is to ask that they check and pin it down, so we don't have to report that the Senator's office takes the position it doesn't know whether he placed a hold on the bill and will not find out.
  5. When an office confesses, I make it a point not to be judgmental or aggressive, but to ask what was the context and reasoning for the decision. The staffer may want to make the boss look better. In the process of explaining we can learn more about who else was involved and what went on behind closed doors.