Whistleblower protection bill hits sudden stop in Congress

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 11:12 PM

It seemed so close.

After 12 years of working to improve protections for federal employees who blow the whistle on government waste, fraud and abuse, Congress was on the verge of passing legislation to make that happen.

For whistleblowers and their advocates, those 12 years included compromises with opponents and fights with friends, including a late-breaking one this week.

After the Senate approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act on Friday, using a unanimous consent procedure, the greater protections seemed in sight. The House was poised to consider the bill, and advocates could almost taste victory.

Then Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) put up a roadblock that could derail the bill.

Hoekstra has objected because he thinks that, as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, he had not been properly consulted about the measure, according to congressional sources. Republicans also have decided to link the whistleblower bill to the controversy over the classified information revealed by WikiLeaks.

Calls and e-mails to Hoekstra's office requesting comment were not returned. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who had favored the legislation, now thinks it should not be considered during the waning days of the lame-duck session.

Citing "new areas of concern that have been raised by the WikiLeaks" disclosures, Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Issa, said the congressman believes the measure should be considered next year, when Republicans control the House.

The irony here is that as legitimate avenues for exposing not classified information but valid, documented concerns about government operations are blocked, the more attractive routes such as WikiLeaks become.

Issa's conversion from supporting the legislation to wanting it held until next year amounts to a major blow for the bill's immediate prospects.

With so little time left on the congressional calendar, a suspension of the House rules would be required for the measure to pass before members go home. It takes a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, which means supporters of the legislation would need 40 to 45 Republicans to vote with the Democratic majority in favor of the measure.

Opposition by Issa, who is set to be chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee next year, makes it much more difficult to win the needed GOP support.

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