Environment News Service

AmeriScan: January 26, 2000


WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2000 (ENS) - A biologist fired by the Air Force for his part in exposing environmental problems on a military base in Arizona has filed a legal challenge under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Bruce Eilerts, a 17 year federal civilian biologist, was fired last November from his position as Natural & Cultural Resource Director at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) for helping prepare a complaint about environmental problems on the Barry M. Goldwater Range. The two million acre range has been used since 1941 by Air Force and Marine Corps pilots for air-to-ground and air-to-air training missions and by ground-based Marines for ground-to-air and land-based combat tactics.

In mid-July 1999, on behalf of current and former employees at the base, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility 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 Eilertsí office and computer to find out who complained. 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, D.C.

"This is the most blatant case of retaliation I have ever seen," said PEER executive director, attorney Jeff Ruch. "After Mr. Eilerts has been restored to his position, we will seek disciplinary action against the officers involved." The suit is before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board which must schedule a full hearing within 120 days. In upholding Eilertsís 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 cited an earlier directive forbidding staff "conversations with interest groups" or contacts with the media. "This case goes to the heart of the question of whether the military can be trusted with environmental stewardship responsibilities," Ruch concluded.

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