President Trump’s proposal for a Space Force to assure US military dominance in space has come under fire for its proposed personnel system, an alleged “merit-based” system that would give fired employees no right of appeal or external review. The Federal News Network quotes AFGE National President J. David Cox, who observed that “an employee or whistleblower adhering to his or her oath of office could be terminated at will.” That would seem to violate the Constitutional oath every elected official and federal employee takes.
Cox said the proposal would reintroduce the spoils system by “establishing an employment system where ideology and political favoritism, rather than competence and professionalism, would govern hiring, compensation, management and termination” of employees. (FNN)
A previous DOD experiment with merit-based compensation, the National Security Personnel System, turned into a cronyism-based compensation system.
To understand the importance of whistleblower rights, one need look no farther than the existing National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA’s 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster demonstrated the need for whistleblowers to speak out courageously about safety issues to avoid catastrophic losses, and also demonstrated the need of employees for protection against retaliation for revealing the causes of disaster. Investigation of the disaster produced startling revelations that influenced the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989.
Tragically, the lessons of Challenger were forgotten and another, equally preventable, disaster occurred in 2003 involving the space shuttle Columbia. Congress later amended the WPA, in 2012.
Expanding the US space agenda beyond scientific exploration to national defense also expands–exponentially–the potentially consequences of engineering failures. Whistleblower protections are therefore even more important for employees of the proposed Space Force.