The Curious Case of Whistleblower Kevin Downing

Exposing wasteful spending is costly work and Kevin Downing, a former economist and data collector at the Department of Labor, is paying the price. In 1999 Mr. Downing raised a red flag over a project to re-organize the New York City Bureau of Labor Statistics office, including an expensive and superfluous complex in Mountainside New Jersey. Upon reporting what appeared to him as an obvious example of pork-barrel spending, Mr. Downing was immediately terminated from his position and his whistleblowing was made public knowledge on the Internet, resulting in damage to his career prospects.  Employers continue to regularly cancel interviews.

On behalf of Mr. Downing, Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. of the 8th District in New Jersey wrote a letter to the Department of Labor in hopes of highlighting his plight and protecting him from reprisals.  Congressman Pascrell wrote:

“There is evidence to indicate that Mr. Downing’s termination was inappropriate because it was in retaliation for his communication with Congressional staff regarding what he believed to be waste and abuse resent in the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Incredibly, Pascrell’s efforts were initially ignored and eventually dismissed by the Department of Labor entirely. Allegedly, the Labor Department managers used Kevin as an example to warn union officials and employees of inevitable retaliation against future whistleblowers.

Given the circumstances, Mr. Downing’s job termination would at least raise some legitimate questions. Many in Congress would seem to agree as they recently passed the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) to attempt to protect federal employees in situations similar to Downing’s. Nonetheless, it was not passed in time to affect his specific case.

After over six years of costly legal battles, it was confirmed Kevin’s termination was a direct result of whistleblowing but the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his case because Kevin “did not disclose non-frivolous information.”

For Kevin Downing, the personal and financial consequences of exposing wasteful governmental spending have been devastating.

On the bright side, his case has brought more attention to the whistleblower issue. A Petition to re-instate Downing with all promotions, pay and benefits as well as payment of his legal expenses has been initiated on for concerned taxpayers (including, of course, readers of this blog) who wish to express their solidarity.

If upstanding federal employees who risk their professional reputations to bring light to malfeasance are driven out of their positions without fair hearing or recourse, taxpayers stand to lose an important watchdog against waste – but worse, the growing mistrust in government would likely spread even further.