Fact Check Update: How Detailed Are Presidential Signing Statements?

Not very.

Yesterday, the Government Accountability Project issued what can only be interpreted as a clarification on where it stands with regards to President Obama’s signing statement on the whistleblower protections in H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013. Initially, GAP was of two minds on the statement (captured here), alternatively downplaying its ramifications while also condemning it for gutting the law, as channeled by its employees Tom Devine (downplaying) and Jesselyn Radack (condemning). The clarification seems to fall on the Radack side of the issue.

While reasoned and carefully measured, it did say that

From GAP’s perspective, it is important to note that there are no references in the signing statement language to restricting the new protections outlined in the law, nor are any enforcement penalties detailed.

However, prior whistleblower-related signing statements were similarly vague in nature, neither “restricting . . . new protections” nor detailing enforcement penalties.

For instance, President George H.W. Bush issued the following statement upon signing the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989:

Several provisions of the bill must be construed carefully in order to avoid constitutional problems. Among these is new section 1217 of title 5, United States Code, which provides that information transmitted by the Special Counsel to the Congress “shall be transmitted concurrently to the President and any other appropriate agency in the executive branch.” New section 1213(j) similarly provides that certain information that comes into the hands of the Special Counsel shall be transmitted to the President’s National Security Advisor as well as specified committees in the Congress. I do not interpret these provisions to interfere with my ability to provide for appropriate prior review of transmittals by the Special Counsel to the Congress. [Emphasis added.]

President Bill Clinton stated the following in 1994 upon signing H.R. 2970, which amended the WPA:

I have been advised that one provision in this bill (section 9), which concerns the apparent authority of an arbitrator to discipline a Federal employee who was not a party to the original action, raises serious constitutional questions. Accordingly, I am directing the agencies to follow appropriate procedures to protect the constitutional rights of such Federal employees and to consider the need for remedial legislation. [Emphasis added.]

GAP ended its statement by pledging to “stand[] at the ready to publicly praise or criticize such actions in the name of the public.”

MSPB Watch is here to make sure that it does.

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2 thoughts on “Fact Check Update: How Detailed Are Presidential Signing Statements?

  1. Where did the false distinction (“From GAP’s perspective, it is important to note that there are no references in the signing statement language to restricting the new protections outlined in the law, nor are any enforcement penalties detailed”) come from?

    “Obama’s signing statement was rhetorical fluff,” argues Tom Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP). “Obama made no reference to restricting the law, or any type of enforcement against whistleblowers.”

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/obama-whistleblower-protections-signing-statement

    As mentioned above, signing statements don’t go into that level of detail. Giving Obama credit for doing what he was elected to do, or for not encumbering signing statements with unusual specificity, is not, in my eyes, worthy of mention, but then Fact Check wouldn’t need to exist.

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