Who Blocked the Whistleblower Protection Act?

Secret SenatorLast January, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and New York radio station WNYC sought help from the public to find out which senator put an anonymous secret hold on the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, killing the bill at the end of the last congressional term. The bill would have assured protection for government workers who expose illegal activities, waste and corruption. It was tremendously popular with the public and had won unanimous approval in the House when a single, unnamed senator put a "secret hold" on the bill, preventing it from going to the full Senate for a vote. The Government Accountability Project vowed to conduct "a relentless search to find the politician who is a cowardly enemy of taxpayers." WNYC asked listeners to call their Senators and ask if they were responsible for the secret hold that killed this important bill. Finally GAP narrowed the field to two possibilities: either Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), or Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). In January, the Senate voted 92-4 to change the rules governing the secret hold to make it harder to use, and GAP's project to expose the senator who used it against the Whistleblower Protection Act has made senators more hesitant to use it. It also brought new attention to the Act, which will be reintroduced in the Senate in the current session.


The concept of protecting federal employee whistleblowers is very popular, but the S. 372 bill that died in the Senate was a hoax. There was tremendous debate and controversy about the weak Senate bill in the whistleblower community. S. 372 was a weak cousin to the stronger House bills on the same subject. The Senate bill that was killed was gutted and contained provisions that would have made it more difficult to blow the whistle than under current law. This campaign over the secret hold presumes the bill that died was a good one. However, S. 372 was actually harmful and would not have accomplished what its supporters claimed. Instead of building public support for a stronger bill the supporters of S. 372 have wasted 3 months searching for the Senator who put the secret hold on a bill that would not have done much to strengthen whistleblower protections for federal works. This public relations campaign spear headed by GAP is by design to lay the ground work to re-introduce the same ineffective and weak legislation as S. 372. Unfortunately, the end result will actually harm whistleblowers, if it is enacted.

According to GAP, the new Whistleblower Protection Act that will be introduced in the 112th Congress will be stronger than the weaker bill that was killed last year. GAP also discusses the difficult history of attempting to pass a strong enough whistleblower protection bill, and says,
"As with any significant reform that must survive a political gauntlet, there have been painful compromises and areas where needed reforms were put off (i.e., making permanent the stimulus law’s anti-retaliation rights for contractor whistleblowers). Overall, however, the legislation is remarkably intact for a reform that has survived a 12 year political gauntlet, including negotiations to lift five secret holds."

You can read more of their analysis of the upcoming legislation here: