Washington, DC.. The Air Force has fired the Natural & Cultural Resource Director at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) for helping prepare a complaint to the Inspector General concerning environmental problems on the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR) in southwestern Arizona. Today, Bruce Eilerts, a 17 year federal civilian biologist filed a legal challenge to his termination under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
In mid-July, on behalf of current and former base employees, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Air Force Office of Inspector General concerning misconduct by Luke AFB officers. In October, those same officers searched Eilerts's office and computer to find out who was behind the complaint. On the basis of a floppy disk and a fax cover sheet, Major Daniel Garcia initiated termination proceedings against Eilerts for "making malicious statements", "disrespect to a superior", "unauthorized release of information" and misuse of a government fax machine in sending documents to Washington. On November 23 Eilerts was fired.
"This is the most blatant case of retaliation I have ever seen," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "After Mr. Eilerts has been restored to his position, we will seek disciplinary action against the officers involved." PEER and local attorney Pamela Vining are representing Eilerts. The Eilerts suit is filed before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board which must schedule a full evidentiary hearing within 120 days.
In upholding Eilerts's termination, Lt. Colonel Bob Isaacson wrote, "Certain extra-governmental environmental activist organizations may hinder our mission by providing what we believe to be an inaccurate appraisal of our efforts." Isaacson also cited an earlier directive forbidding staff "conversations with interest groups" or contacts with the media.
"The problem at Luke is that certain officers will not let the civilian specialists do their job of managing the natural and cultural resources which by law they are supposed to protect consistent with the military mission," Pamela Vining added. "There is a mind set among certain officers at Luke that anything, even the dictates of law, that impedes the mission must be stamped out." Vining pointed to the comments of Colonel David White, the Commander of the Range Management Office and one of the defendants in the Eilerts complaint, who stated to the Wall Street Journal, "When you come out here and see this, your adrenaline starts pumping. You just want to drop some bombs."
"This case goes to the heart of the question of whether the military can be trusted with environmental stewardship responsibilities," Ruch concluded.