Remembering William C. Bush, NASA whistleblower
1925 – March 5, 2009
by Linda Lewis
William C. (Bill) Bush, a graduate of the University of Alabama (BSCE, 1949), was an engineer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s George C. Marshall Space Flight facility in Huntsville, Alabama (The Military Law Review, Vol. 108, 1985, p. 218) when he disclosed to reporters in 1975 that the agency didn’t give him much work to do. He als0 disclosed that NASA had issued a directive denying employees over age 40 participation in executive leadership training programs.
The agency retaliated by demoting Bush from GS-14 to GS-12. Bush was accused of making “intemperate remarks” that were “demeaning to the government,” indicated a” malicious attitude toward management,” and resulted in “disharmony” among his fellow employees (TMLR, p. 219).
After an appeal to the Federal Employee Appeals Authority failed, Bush went to the Civil Service Commission’s Appeal Review Board, which recommended restoring him to his previous position and awarded him back pay (TMLR, p. 220-21). While that administrative process was underway, Bush filed suit in an Alabama state court against NASA official William Lucas, for violation of Bush’s Constitutional rights.
The case was moved to U.S. District Court, which granted summary judgment in favor of Lucas on the grounds that Lucas was immune from liability, and “demotion was not a deprivation for which a damages action could be maintained” (BUSH v. LUCAS, 462 U.S. 367, cited in TMLR, p. 221). After the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling, the case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court (see BUSH v. LUCAS, 462 U.S. 367  462 U.S. 367).
Bush retired from NASA in 1986 and, per a 1994 interview, said he still suffered from stress-related illnesses caused by continual harassment.
One of the country’s best-known former whistleblowers, he has maintained a support network for others and has pleaded their causes to members of Congress, the press and concerned organizations. Although less active now, Bush says he still receives a couple calls a week from whistleblowers.
“Hell, no, I wouldn’t do it again,” Bush asserts. “I ruined my life, my wife’s life. And, I wouldn’t do it anonymously, either. There is no protection whatsoever.” (Whistleblowers: Who’s the Real Bad Guy?, American Management Association, 1994).
William C. Bush died on March 5, 2009.
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More about William C. Bush and his battle with NASA
Court Limits U.S. Workers’ Right to Sue, Washington Post
Tax Saver Finds Boss All Too Willing, Milwaukee Sentinel
Oral arguments, William C. Bush v William R. Lucas (audio and transcript), The Oyez Project
William C. Bush credited with the term “ethical resistance” by Franklin V. Anderson, Attorney at Law