Senator kills vital whistleblower protection bill on last day of Congress via an anonymous ‘hold’


A single Republican Senator, using the egregious parliamentary tactic of placing an anonymous ‘hold’ without having the integrity to offer a public justification, killed a major whistleblower protection bill that reform advocates have worked on for 12 years, and that had overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. This Senator must be exposed and subjected to relentless political opposition for this betrayal of the public interest. The Democrats, if they are fit to govern, must abolish the secret hold on the first day of the incoming Congress.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was a package of badly needed reforms that would restore meaningful whistleblower rights to federal government employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, or abuse in the federal government. Among its many contributions to the public interest, the legislation would have created specific protection for scientific freedom, making it an abuse of authority to censor, obstruct dissemination, or misrepresent the results of federal research — a protection for which the need is clear.  

Climate Science Watch is a sponsored project of the Government Accountability Project.  We associate ourselves with the following statement by GAP:

Government Accountability Project Statement on Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act Secret Hold

by Tom Devine, GAP Legal Director

December 22, 2010

This holiday season, a Republican senator gave taxpayers a secret Scrooge. After unanimous House approval today, and unanimous Senate approval last month of a stronger bill, this evening an anonymous Republican senator killed the reform through a secret hold. The senator who sabotaged this bill should come out of the closet. Good government groups want to give him the 2010 Friend of Fraud, Waste and Abuse Award.

There will be a relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers.

GAP will not interrupt its efforts for passage of a reform that has earned unanimous support of every politician except the one who secretly opposes it.

Tom Devine is Legal Director of the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

The Washington Post reported (excerpt):

Bill to protect whistleblowers fails in Senate

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; A03

A bill giving federal employees expanded protections against retaliation for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse died in Congress on Wednesday night, after a 12-year lobbying effort won last-minute unanimous approval for it in the House but failed to gain similar approval under special voting rules in the Senate.

A single unnamed senator put a hold on the bill, which had already passed the Senate by voice vote in a more controversial form, just before the chamber adjourned for the Christmas holiday. That decision denied the Obama administration – and many Republican supporters – a victory that accountability advocates have long sought.

The aim of the legislation was to bolster incentives for federal workers to put a halt to wrongdoing by making protected disclosures to their superiors, Congress or the public. Those who work at borders, airports and nuclear facilities, as well as law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, would be among those covered….

The bill specifically protected disclosures related to unlawful acts, regulatory violations, abuses of authority, dangers to public health and any gross mismanagement or gross waste of funds, so long as the whistleblower had substantial evidence to back a claim. It would have reversed hundreds of legal rulings that advocates say have gutted whistleblower rights, including some that barred protection for disclosures to co-workers or the person responsible for wrongdoing.

It also contained provisions specifically meant to protect against retaliation for the disclosure of any manipulation of scientific data, and, for the first time, would have allowed those who suffer alleged retaliation to request a jury trial in federal courts across the country. They now can get a hearing only before a single court in Washington that many advocates view as hostile to federal workers rights.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Conn.), a key sponsor of the bill, said, “We want to send a clear signal that whistleblowers will have the protection they deserve.” Rep. Todd Russell Platts (R-Pa.), another key sponsor, said he believes the legislation will empower “those on the front lines” in the federal workforce who see wrongdoing to come forward, because it provides a legal means for them to do so. Today, he said, they are “understandably hesitant.”

Perhaps we missed something, but except for the Washington Post, the rest of the mainstream news media appears to have been asleep at the switch in covering this important story. 

Government Executive reported (excerpt):

Whistleblower protection bill dies again, on the 1-yard line

By Robert Brodsky, December 23, 2010

…The 11th-hour failure to pass the bill was déjà vu for its supporters. In 2008, the Senate passed a version by unanimous consent and the House passed a similar bill, but the chambers were unable to work out their differences before the 110th Congress adjourned.

During the past decade, the measure also has faced countless procedural hurdles from Senate Republicans. Among the Republican lawmakers who have placed holds on earlier versions of the whistleblower legislation are Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Kit Bond of Missouri, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama….

The bill reportedly had the backing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Supporters of the measure vowed to identify the lawmaker who placed the hold. “This holiday season, a Republican senator gave taxpayers a secret Scrooge,” said Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower protection and advocacy organization. “The senator who sabotaged this bill should come out of the closet. Good government groups want to give him the 2010 Friend of Fraud, Waste and Abuse Award. There will be a relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers.”

The Government Accountability Project pledged to continue working toward passage of the bill in the next Congress. But with Republicans taking control of the House, some supporters believe getting attention for the measure might be difficult.

The scuttled bill would have provided new or expanded whistleblower protection rights to 40,000 Transportation Security Administration baggage screeners and federal scientists who challenge what they see as censorship.

The bill also would have changed the legal process for whistleblowers alleging retaliation from their supervisors, allowing alleged victims to seek a jury trial anywhere in the country. Appellate reviews of cases involving the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act would no longer be sent exclusively to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled in favor of government whistleblowers in only three of 211 cases. And the bill would have ended a provision in existing law that protects only “the first” person who discloses the misconduct.

The act also would give the Office of Special Counsel the authority to file friend-of-the-court briefs to support employees appealing MSPB rulings. MSPB would be required to file annual reports on the outcomes of whistleblower cases, and an experimental whistleblower ombudsman position would be created to advise employees of their rights in offices of inspectors general.

Earlier posts:

Support passage of whistleblower protection in the lame duck

Government Whistleblower Protection: The Long Ignored Way to Better Connect the Dots

Anyone Can Whistle: The Essential Role of the Whistleblower in American Society

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