No doubt one of the most disconcerting aspects of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act (The Stimulus/StimPak/Stimzilla) is the idea that many of those same government bureaucrats who brought us $800 ash trays and no-bid contracts will be charged with overseeing this massive program.
When the numbers get too big to contemplate, I remember how voting for $87 billion before he voted against it let the air out of John Kerry's presidential hopes. This thing is ten time bigger. It would take forever to count (or spend) that much money, but one sure can appreciate the power such an amount of cash commands.
We've been promised unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability by the Obama administration in distributing the money efficiently and where it will be most effective. To that end, in a rarely seen display of bi-partisanship, the House of Representatives unanimously approved an amendment to the Stimulus Bill protecting whistleblowers.
Senator Susan Collins, one of the three Republicans who crossed party lines to get the act passed insisted the Amendment be withdrawn from the final bill.
The bipartisan amendment will protect federal employees who report waste, fraud and abuse in government. Maine freshman Rep. Chellie Pingree supported the amendment.
Now it is up to the Senate to agree to strong whistleblower protections in the final stimulus package. We expect Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a new member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a longtime proponent of transparency and accountability in government contracting, to be key to the final version.
The House amendment incorporates the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and then-Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. The House approved the bill by a vote of 331 to 94.
The Senate stimulus package, while offering whistleblower protections to state and local employees involved in stimulus spending, does not extend these protections to federal whistleblowers.
Collins is the ranking member of Joe Lieberman's Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee, with oversight responsibilities for the federal spending associated with Stimzilla. TPM Muckracker reports,
But, according to a person following the bill closely, Collins used today's conference committee to drastically water down the measure, citing national security concerns as the reason for her opposition. In the end, the protections were so weakened that House negotiators balked, and the result was that the entire amendment was removed.
According to the person following the bill, Collins was the "central roadblock" to passing the protections.
"National Security concerns?" This thing smells.
At a time when the FBI has 38 pending investigations of big banks and Wall Street firms in the wake of the TARP bailout, with an additional 500 fraud cases and some 1500 mortgage cons overwhelming the white collar crime division, a little help from whistleblowers who are legally protected from retaliation would be most welcome. As it stands now, the current system has only protected 2 out of 55 fired employee whistleblowers in the last eight years who otherwise have little incentive to do the right thing.
BooMan notes how vastly disproportional the power of the Senate "GOP moderates" has become compared to the rest of their Republican brethern. It's simply a function of the dynamics of the GOP caucus decision to oppose the President -- hoping he fails.
I know there is not much choice for the Republican leadership, but when they refuse to work with the administration as a matter of strategy, they wind up inadvertently investing tremendous power in just a few moderates within their caucus. If they keep this up, we'll see a cycle repeat itself where Sens. Collins, Snowe, and Specter consistently wins concessions for their concerns and their constituents, while the rest of the Republicans are left with almost nothing to show for themselves.
Having veto power over the nearly unanimous verdict of the entire House of Representatives, holding sway over the majority of all Congressional Republicans in both houses -- Wow. I had no idea just how powerful these moderate cross-over Senators had become. It's gonna be a long four/eight years for hardliners like Cornyn, Inhofe and McConnell.
And by the way, WTF is her problem with whistleblowers anyway?