If the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act fails, what will have caused it?
If WPEA fails to pass, or does pass and causes harm to whistleblowers, will anyone have predicted it?
S. 743/H.R. 3289 is the latest attempt to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. Here are the past attempts. Apparently the past four attempts were stymied at the hands of holdouts in the Senate. The last attempt, S. 372 in December 2010, was blamed on a secret hold cast by Republican Senators. But that narrative conveniently ignores the fact that the Senate and Administration had the chance to pass it in February 2009 as part of the ARRA stimulus package debate, only to be killed by Senator Susan Collins. And it ignores why the bill was pushed all the way to the end of the Congressional term, empowering hostage-takers who placed the secret hold literally in the last hour of the session. At some level, that falls on Harry Reid, who has control over the Senate calendar, and who didn’t schedule debate until December 2010.
It also doesn’t help that the whistleblower community was divided back then, and continues to be, over what’s in the bill. The current sticking point is the summary judgment provision. We’ll see in a couple of years whether it’s a big deal when pro se whistleblowers at the MSPB get handed one defeat after another for being outmatched by professional agency counsel and biased MSPB judges. It’s not difficult to predict the outcome.
But more important is the process by which the professional advocates decide what to lobby for and how to lobby for it. The umbrella organization responsible for WPEA is the Make It Safe Campaign, created by Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project. MISC is an ad hoc coalition of non-profits, whistleblowers, labor unions, and organizations. There is a steering committee composed of representatives from the Government Accountability Project, the Project on Government Oversight, Union of Concerned Scientists, American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Civil Liberties Union. This is the largest and most prominent organization that speaks for whistleblowers on Capitol Hill, but no whistleblower is on the steering committee. Absent explicit request, there are no minutes kept and made available to the general membership, and members must go through the steering committee to communicate with each other, submitting their notices for 24-hour approval. There is no general membership contact list available, despite some of us asking for over 6 months. The National Whistleblowers Center used to be on the steering committee but resigned in protest after being excluded from legislative planning. NWC has opposed S. 372 and may oppose S. 743 due to the summary judgment provision.
If WPEA fails to pass, or if it passes and harms whistleblowers, it cannot be said that everything was tried but was met with irrational opposition in Congress. The fact is that not everything has been tried. The community has not been empowered or enfranchised for long-term input and decision-making. The public hasn’t been reached in an effective way. The advocates try to insert legislation in low-key ways, rather than empower a movement. The norms of transparency and reasoned debate are proving to be illusory.
If WPEA fails to pass or fails as law, now you will know why.
Update: Some whistleblowers issued an open letter to Congress yesterday, which was requested and steered by Tom Devine, only to have him request that we not publish it after the MISC Steering Committee got cold feet. Apparently Congress expects applause and cannot tolerate being criticized for passing a bill that fails to grant real due process (i.e. trial by a jury of one’s peers, which goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215 A.D.). The details will be omitted for now but the events of the past couple of days exemplify Sibel Edmonds’ post that the professional advocates sell whistleblowers down the river behind closed doors when it really counts.