A Modern Whodunit

Brown Handle Magnifying Glass

A Modern Whodunit

Back in December, a bill to protect whistle blowing federal employees was expected to pass.

Instead, it disappeared.

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2010 (S. 372) was introduced in February of 2009. The bill is summarized by congress as “A bill to amend chapter 23 of title 5, United States Code, to clarify the disclosures of information protected from prohibited personnel practices, require a statement in nondisclosure policies, forms, and agreements that such policies, forms, and agreements conform with certain disclosure protections, provide certain authority for the Special Counsel, and for other purposes.” The Senate finally passed the bill in December 2010, which was subsequently passed a few weeks later by the House of Representatives.

Following a year long editing process, The Whistleblower Protection Act finally made it to the House, only to disappear ten days later as it was being voted.

So what actually happened?

One senator slyly put an anonymous block on the bill, using a last-minute “secret-hold.” This controversial practice allows any senator, for any reason, to anonymously prevent a bill from being passed or a nomination from coming to vote.
In 2011, the senate eliminated this tradition on a 92-4 vote.

WNYC’s On the Media began an investigation, narrowing down the possible culprits to five senators. Two then stated that they did not put the secret block on the bill.

So now there’s three senators left, and nobody’s talking.

Ironically, the three possible transgressors all voted to reform the “secret-hold” practice. Republican senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, and James Risch of Idaho all chose to reform the practice, yet are being suspected of using it.

Senator Risch’s and Senator Sessions’ offices both neither confirm nor deny their votes, but both adhere that anonymous votes should remain anonymous. Senator Kyl’s office would not make any statements, though one staffer hinted Kyl’s stance by pointing out that the bill was amended twice, and was not given nearly enough attention to on the way to the house. Kyl’s vote to get rid of the “secret-hold” practice would have been a very good cover for him, as his verbal opposition to the reform as well as his use of the secret hold before on a similar matter involving the Freedom of Information Act, strongly indicates his feelings on the bill.

After the long, seemingly fruitful journey of this bill to only be stopped in its tracks by a senator who won’t even step forward, is a major disappointment. I can’t help but think of the Schoolhouse Rocks song “I’m just a Bill.” I imagine the Whistleblower Protection Enforcement Act sitting glum on the steps of the courthouse.

Boy: Listen to those congressmen arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you?

Bill: Yeah, I’m one of the lucky ones. Most bills never even get this far. I hope they decide to report on me favourably, otherwise I may die.

Boy: Die?

Bill: Yeah, die in committee. Oooh, but it looks like I’m gonna live! Now I go to the House of Representatives, and they vote on me.

Boy: If they vote yes, what happens?

Bill: Then I go to the Senate and the whole thing starts all over again.

Boy: Oh no!

Bill: Oh yes!

I guess all we can do now is hope and pray, while the bill sulks on the steps.