Whistleblower Project Results

Brooke Gladstone, host and managing editor of WNYC’s On the Media, shares the outcome of OTM's Blow the Whistle project that used "the crowd" to figure out which U.S. Senator blocked the Whistleblower Protection Act.

From It's A Free Country:

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Brooke Gladstone, host and managing editor of WNYC’s On the Media, shares the outcome of OTM's Blow the Whistle project that used "the crowd" to figure out which U.S. Senator blocked the Whistleblower Protection Act.

The Whistle Blower Enhancement Act was killed in Congress last December at the last minute when a mystery senator placed an anonymous hold on the bill, preventing a final vote. The bill, which was designed to protect government workers from being punished for exposing waste, fraud or corruption within government, had popular support and the votes to pass, but the anonymous hold prevented it ever reaching the floor for a vote. 

WNYC's On the Media had asked listeners to join them and the Government Accountability Project to figure out which senator killed the bill. Hundreds of people participated by calling their state senators and asking if they were the one who placed the secret hold. Through this crowd-sourcing, they were able to narrow the search down to just three senators.

There were three senators who still refused to comment but we’ve eliminated one of them anyway. The three senators are James Risch of Idaho, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The three of them have steadfastly refused to comment. We’ve eliminated Risch for a couple of reasons… He basically is a new-style Republican who opposes telling us because he believes in the secret hold. He thinks it protects senators against ‘the tyranny of the majority.’

The Tyranny of the Majority

Risch said in a quote that the secret hold is an “important part of the process which protects the rights of each senator, especially those in the minority. It forces thoughtful consideration and debate while ensuring members work together.” Gladstone finds that unlikely in the case of a solo secret hold.

In the case of the Whistle Blower Protection Enhancement Act, this had unanimously passed both houses. Any consideration that was going to be done, would have been done… It makes no sense.

Gladstone is “absolutely not” surprised by the finding that it was Senators Kyl and Sessions. 

Both Kyl and Sessions have put holds on similar legislation in the past, and, of course, the holds did eventually come to light, but long after it made any difference.

Whoever placed the hold would seem to have feel that a bill protecting workers who report government waste is either bad for America, or bad for some other interest that they are protecting. Gladstone thinks the hold was probably placed by both Sessions and Kyl.

They’ve [both] opposed it in the past and the thing is, why don’t they oppose it in public? Because this is essentially an anti-money-wasting bill, even more than illegal activities, it’s things like secret deals with contractors, poorly designed weapons that are costing too much, that kind of thing.

A Favor for the House Republicans

What we found out, was the hold was placed because of a secret request from the Republican House leadership.

The House, which doesn’t have a secret hold process had, in fact, unanimously passed the bill twice — once as originally written, and later a softer version, with some of the more protective language removed. Gladstone said the reason why the Republican leadership would then request the Senate to put a secret hold on was beyond her comprehension.

Unless there are certain construction deals related to government in certain states where the contracts are benefiting local business… to be honest with you, I’ve gone way beyond my level of knowledge now.

Journalism at its Best

The Blow the Whistle project has had enormous effect. Several reporters wrote editorials about the campaign, and several newspapers across the country came on board as well. 

The Government Accountability Project says… that [they] have heard that Republicans who used the secret hold before will never ever use it again because of the light that we have shined on it… [They] feel very strongly that when they reintroduce [the bill again] there will be no secret hold to kill it, and anybody who wants to is going to have to face the public and explain why.

Gladstone said On the Media has senators from every other state on the record stating that they did not place the hold, so she feels very confident in their results. On the Media will be doing a wrap up of the project on their show this Saturday. And as for the future of whistle blower protection, Gladstone said it may have lost the battle but won the war.

This bill is dead. It died in the last legislative session. They have to bring it up again. But they’re bringing up the stronger one this time, rather than the one that was weakened.