“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. …” ~ JFK

In the most bizarre twist of irony the DC Whistlerblower Protection Enhancement Act was killed … by an anonymous secret Senator.

Oh how I wish I was a better writer as I am unable to apply the satirical bent this article so richly craves. Feel free to write your own headline to this piece of ironical satire.

Thanks to New York City WNYC Radio AM 820 and 93.9 FM, America’s largest and most listened-to public radio station, reaching over 1,000,000 listeners weekly and their 3 month campaign of Blow the Whistle the truth once again will surface. But first a little background

Blow the Whistle!

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 a secret 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.

With the help of our listeners we have managed to eliminate all but two Senators, both of whom have said that their policy is not to comment on the placement of anonymous holds. The Government Accountability Project has let us know that this project has had the two-pronged effect in the Senate of making Senators more hesitant to use the secret hold, and bringing new attention to the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which is expected to be reintroduced in the Senate shortly.

Maybe its just me but I find irony to be overwhelming. I mean in this country where we have the audacity to preach to the rest of the world about our “democratic principles” we have something known as “a secret hold” as part of our legislative process.  

A secret hold allows a senator – it doesn’t exist in the House of Representatives – to paralyze any legislative action without actually voting against legislation or revealing his or her identity. It can be just because they want to do something constructive, like find enough time to read the bill before they vote on it. (Funny how this process was never used for the Patriot Act, MediCare Part D, Health Care, Financial Reform, etc.)

The interview on WNYC asks why would this be done?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why would a senator that had ostensibly passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act the first time it was in the Senate place a hold on it the second time around?…[..]

TOM DEVINE: They did it because they were requested by House leadership, which didn’t have the political backbone to come out and oppose this taxpayer reform.

Who are these emboldened defenders of our Democracy? It should come as no surprise the very same two who have blocked this legislation successfully in the previous four sessions of Congress. The interview continues:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, as I mentioned in the intro, there are just three senators who have refused to comment. That’s James Risch of Idaho, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. You’ve pretty much eliminated Risch, right?

TOM DEVINE: His staff has said they didn’t have any objections to the provisions of the legislation last year. They don’t this year, unless it changes. And they hadn’t worked with the Senate leadership on it. So they’re just really not a fair suspect.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that leaves Kyl of Arizona and Sessions of Alabama. Sessions has placed a secret hold on whistleblower protection legislation in the past, right?

TOM DEVINE: That’s correct, and so has Senator Kyl. They’ve almost been a tag team blocking Senate votes on this reform.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm. Kyl has basically said that the Senate didn’t have time to review the House changes and reconcile the differences between the two bills. Is that a fair statement?

Tag Team

Apparently Tag Teaming is a political tool used by our media craving Senators as the wiki explains.

Since U.S. Senate rules now require the entering of the senator’s name into the public record after six days, senators now commonly ‘tag-team’ a hold. ‘Tag-Teaming’ a hold requires at least two senators that want to hold the legislation indefinitely. The first senator (anonymously) places a hold on the legislation, then, after five days, and before his or her name is entered into the record, releases his or her hold. The second senator then places an (anonymous/secret) hold on the legislation and, also after five days, and also before his or her name is made public, releases his or her hold. The first senator then takes over the hold, and the process repeats itself indefinitely.

I put this in the same offensive category as automatic pay raises. I dont care what the Bill is, the US Congress should be required to vote in public and on the record for any legislation. That is how Democracy works.  


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    • banger on April 8, 2011 at 13:33

    and, in general, gov’t offices I’ve seen tend to be defensive, mistrustful and largely uninterested in the mission. Whistleblowing is the worst thing you can do and will ruin your career. All organizations I’ve met put a premium on secrecy and loyalty–in other words “keep your mouth shut.” You’ve got to be a really strong person to really represent the public interest.

  1. that this kind of undemocratic maneuver is permitted in the United State Senate.  Not.  And that these two bozo have found a way to game it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

    These are the best senators money can buy, and they are true to their big donors. They do their bidding, no one else’s.  And they have adopted rules that allow them to escape even the modest scrutiny they might receive from the non-paying constituents. Their big donors don’t need “transparency”.  Of course not.  They will pay only when they get what they want.  The Senators are proud to show them that.  

  2. reading about a senator in the 1930’s who filibustered the anti-lynching law. But he had no problem revealing what he did to Life magazine. He was proud of it. The Senate’s a pathetic joke, but so is the Presidency and the Supreme Court. The whole govt. is riddled with secret agendas that have no connection whatsoever to ideas of improving the political process for the betterment of the public good and the enhancement of democratic principles. The secret hold is nothing but an intellectual dungeon, a perfect place for the criminals that reside in D.C.—  

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