Remembering Arnold Watson, Agriculture Department whistleblower

July 16, 1937 – August 30. 2011

Arnold Edgar Watson, born July 16, 1937 in Scott County, Kentucky. He graduated from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, and served in the U.S. Army. He married Patricia Kelley Watson and they had a daughter, Kelley. (Lexington Herald-Leader).

Arnold’s career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conversation Service sounds like a scene out of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” In 1980, he proposed a change to agency funding that, unknown to him, would have endangered a costly dam project. He took his suggestion to Washington despite threats to fire him. Subsequently, his bosses gave him menial assignments and moved his desk to a hallway by the bathroom door. When that didn’t stop him, they assigned him to strenuous field duties that a back injury made impossible. The agency fired him when he failed to report for his impossible duties, and Watson filed a lawsuit against his former supervisor. (Parade Magazine)

After his dismissal, Watson sought help from Dr. Donald Soeken, a psychologist with extensive experience in counseling whistleblowers. “He told me his story, and it checked out with the documents and the usual process whistleblowers are forced through,” Soeken says. They never get fired for blowing the whistle directly. It is always a violation of a petty rule they are forced into breaking by higher-level bureaucrats looking out for themselves and their jobs not for good of the government or the taxpayer.” (Jack Anderson, Parade Magazine).

Having lost his job, Watson lacked the deep pockets needed to fight a government agency with unlimited legal resources. Nevertheless, when his court case was dismissed, he gamely filed an appeal “pro se,” meaning he proceeded without an attorney.

Arnold died on August 30, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. His obituary, published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on 9/1/11, and a guest book are available at www.tuckeryocumwilson.com.

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