Federal Whistleblowing Case Results In 2 Deaths

A former BLS federal employee entered a federal building in New York last week and killed both a security guard and himself.

Late on Friday afternoon, Kevin Downing traveled from his home in New Jersey and arrived at his old employer’s workplace at 201 Varick Street in New York’s SoHo district.

The federal building contains several federal agencies, including regional offices of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an agency that had fired Mr. Downing in 1999.

Like most federal buildings, security is supplied by armed private contractors using metal detectors.

When Mr. Downing approached the security guard, Idrissa Camara, Downing fired the pistol he had brought with him and killed him. After shooting the senior security guard in the head at close range, Downing walked toward an elevator where he encountered another employee, and then shot himself in the head, according to James O’Neill, a chief with the New York Police Department.

In 2013, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell had written a letter to the Department of Labor saying “there is evidence to indicate 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 present in the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Despite Rep. Pascrell’s letter, Downing was unable to get back his old job and had trouble finding employment, which he blamed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

BLS is the government’s main producer of labor statistics and highly regards its independence from any sort of outside interference.

It is likely that the shootings reflected Mr. Downing’s frustration with BLS and the handling of his case.

The shooting came one day after the National Taxpayer’s Union, which had championed Mr. Downing’s cause with the Department of Labor in 2014, issued a message saying that Congress must protect whistleblowers who point out fraud and waste in the military. Mr. Downing had served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and signed a petition in 2013 asking for better protection for whistleblowers.

Most private sector employees are protected by a host of rules and laws administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Programs, but OSHA does not have jurisdiction over federal employees.

Federal employees fall under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, both enforced by the Office of Special Counsel.

OSC is a small agency with 140 FTE to serve the federal employee workforce. For FY 2016, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is requesting $24,119,000, a modest increase of $1,180,000 above OSC’s current funding level. This increase will allow OSC to sustain its current workforce and increase the size of its staff to 146 FTE.

OSC estimates that they will receive over 6,600 new cases in FY 2015, an increase of 27 percent above the record level set in FY 2014 (5,236 new cases). This is a 79 percent increase over the 10-year averaged annual case level.

Having worked with the OSHA’s private sector whistleblower programs, I can say first hand that no one should choose to become a whistleblower for the fame or glory.

Whistleblowing is a lonely business, and the whistleblowers themselves are usually ostracized from their workplace and often fired for their activities.

I would not recommend it for anyone, but some choose to pursue whistleblowing cases anyway, due to a sense of justice or sometimes just revenge against their employer.

Whistleblowers can be of great benefit to their workplaces if their complaints are taken seriously and resolved in a timely manner.

In Mr. Downing’s case, he never found the justice he had sought, and Mr. Camara paid the price.

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.