Blow the Whistle – Identifying the U.S. Senator who singlehandedly killed whistleblower protection with a secret “hold”


Was the culprit Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama)? Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona)? Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho)? Which U.S. Senator surreptitiously used a secret “hold” to kill a major whistleblower protection bill in the final hours of the last Congress? The offices of the other 97 senators have thus far denied killing the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, a popular and tremendously important bill, years in the making, that would have been a major step forward in strengthening the rights of federal employees who report corruption.

The National Public Radio program On the Media reports on its participation in the Blow the Whistle project, a public interest project aimed at identifying the perpetrator of this action:

On December 22nd, 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 an anonymous 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.

Since the project began, our listeners have managed to eliminate all but three Senators, many of whom have said that their policy is not to comment on the placement of anonymous holds. We are asking constituents to call the remaining three Senators and ask them if they placed the hold and why they believe the public does not have a right to hold them accountable for something as basic as killing a bill. …

The rest of the post includes some suggested questions to ask those Senators.

From the Government Accountability Project:

Identify the Senator that Placed a Secret Hold on Whistleblower Protection

Targeting: Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ), and Sen. Jim Risch (ID)


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.

It’s working.

We’re down to only three senators whose offices have refused to deny placing the hold. The suspects are:

Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
James Risch (R-ID)
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 three 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. …

Also see: “The Mystery of the Whistleblower Killer: Who Did It?” (Esquire, Politics blog, March 9)

Climate Science Watch is a sponsored project of the Government Accountability Project.

In our view, government and corporate whistleblowing aimed at bringing to light evidence of official criminality, waste, fraud, and abuse of power remains a substantially underutilized and insufficiently protected form of public service. In our view, considering the extent of corruption and abuse of power in the U.S. governmental and corporate systems, if our democracy were functioning as it should be, whistleblowing would be done much more frequently. All too often, individuals keep their heads down and their mouths shut, choosing complicity or silence over resistance.

Someone on the staff of the Senator who killed the whistleblower legislation while hiding behind a secrecy procedure could perform a public service by identifying him to the Blow the Whistle project. In our view, the public’s right to know overrides the Senator’s right to confidentiality in this case.

Think like a whistleblower.

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1 Response to Blow the Whistle – Identifying the U.S. Senator who singlehandedly killed whistleblower protection with a secret “hold”

  1. Anne says:

    for Identifying the Secret Hold Culprit:

    Methods of communication, in order of effectiveness:

    1. Show up: make an appointment, go into their office, ask to talk with their chief of staff, legislative director or press person (a meeting with the Senator himself is optimum but highly unlikely, unless you are a voting constituent!)
    2. Send a snail mail letter, once a day or once a week, keep the mail coming!
    3. Call the office, provide your full name, and insist that the receptionist write down your message and make sure it gets delivered to the Senator.
    4. Obtain email addresses for their staff and send emails — however, remember that constituents will get top priority and staff get hundreds of emails that are often ignored.
    5. IF you are a constituent, use the contact form on their website, linked below. Non-constituents generally can’t use these forms.
    6. Repeat steps 1-5, early and often! A steady stream of communication is what gets their attention

    The script for calling in:

    “Hello, my name is ____ and I am from ______. (If you are a constituent voting in their state, say so! ) I want to know if Senator _______ placed a hold on S. 372, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, on December 22, 2010. This is a good opportunity for the Senator to deny that he placed a hold on this bill. It is an opportunity for him to claim his innocence in single-handedly stopping a bill which has broad support and would have significantly raised the level of accountability among government officials if it had been permitted to come to a vote and passed into law.” (…or something along these lines, in your own words.)

    Rule of Thumb: Keep it short and to the point. Demand an answer, and don’t let up until you get one — but be polite, patient and calm, and ask the staffer to promise to get an answer and get back in touch with you if they cannot answer right away. Record and document the responses you get, ask for the name of the person answering the phone or at the front desk if you are appearing in person, and continue to contact their office until you get a definitive answer. Squeaky wheels, squeaky wheels!


    Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121 (this is a good number to memorize or keep in your contacts list, it allows you to be connected to the phone for any Senator or Representative at any time of the day or night)

    Senator Jon Kyl
    US Senate
    730 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    (202) 224-4521
    Web Form:

    Senator James Risch
    483 Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC
    (202) 224-2752
    Web Form:

    Senator Jeff Sessions
    335 Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    (202) 224-4124
    Web Form:

    (You’re welcome!) ~ Anne P.

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