Did Sen. Jim Risch kill a whistleblower bill? He is 1 of 4 who could have, a watchdog group says

From the Idaho Statesman

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Project, which has been trying for more than a decade to pass stronger whistleblower protections for federal workers, wants to know who put an end to their bill, and they’ve zeroed in on former Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch.

Through some sleuthing and the help of NPR listeners, the group has determined Risch and three other senators are the only four who could have put an anonymous hold on the whistleblower bill.

The Government Accountability Project, in collaboration with the NPR show On the Media, asked its listeners to call their senators to ask if they had placed the hold. Whoever placed the secret hold kept the whistleblower bill from coming up for a final vote in the U.S. Senate in the waning days of 2010, effectively killing it.

“Together, we can forcefully remind our elected officials how much transparency matters to the people they represent,” a statement on the Blow the Whistle project website said.

By Friday, the project ruled out all but Risch, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

So far, though, Risch isn’t saying whether he did it. The practice of secret holds came to an end this year, when the Senate voted to require public disclosure in the Congressional Record within 48 hours of a senator raising objections to legislation or nominations.

“Sen. Risch’s policy has been to not comment on secret holds,” spokesman Brad Hoaglun said in an e-mail. “Although the rules have changed for this Congress he is still holding firm to his policy as it pertains to the last Congress.”

This week, the Blow the Whistle project asked for people to put heat on Risch, whose office said it received a “handful” of inquiries about the hold.

The group doesn’t actually think Risch did it, said Government Accountability Project’s legal director Tom Devine. Sessions and Kyl have more of a history of placing holds. But Devine said it’s shocking when elected officials “insist on secrecy as a matter of principle.”

“What’s disturbing is he says it’s none of the voters’ business how he votes for the laws of the land. How can anyone trust a politician who insists on the right for secret votes? Secrecy is the breeding ground for political and bureaucratic corruption,” Devine said of Risch.

What’s also puzzling to the Government Accountability Project about the hold is that the legislation had widespread support, and whistleblowers are supported in general by the public. The legislation, which was backed by the White House, too, would have made it easier for federal workers to report wrongdoing by their superiors without fear of reprisal.

An earlier version of the bill had passed by a voice vote in the Senate last year, and the House unanimously passed a compromise version. But with the hold in place, that compromise version of the bill never got taken up in the mad crush of legislation considered by the Senate just before Christmas.

From the Idaho Statesman

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