Should there be a time limit for protecting whistle-blowers' jobs? The Bush Administration seems to think so. Case in point: Ernie Fitzgerald, the Air Force cost analyst who in 1969 told Congress about $2 billion in cost overruns on the C-5 cargo plane, prompting President Nixon to tell officials to "get rid of that son of a bitch." A court order saved Fitzgerald's job, but he says it's under threat again. Fitzgerald, 79, tells TIME his role has eroded under President Bush. His reports on how much aircraft should cost "have been ignored" by superiors, he says. In 2002, he lost his last two procurement analysts. Last month, at the Administration's urging, the same judge who issued the order to protect Fitzgerald's job rescinded it, saying the Air Force had fulfilled its obligations. And last week, he was told for the first time in 23 years to stop reporting to the Air Force's top financial manager.
The service says it offered Fitzgerald two new jobs, including one advising "on the latest cost and schedule performance-management techniques." He rejected both, saying, "It strips me of authority and the ability to initiate work." Some Air Force officials think Fitzgerald has a "persecution complex"; one tells TIME that history isn't to blame for his latest woes: "There are very few people in the Air Force today who know about his work on the C-5."
That lack of institutional memory could be part of the problem. General Michael Moseley, the new Air Force Chief of Staff, recently told Congress that the wholesale jettisoning of "cost estimators, engineers [and] program managers" led to the service's procurement scandals, which forced the Pentagon to take control of major aircraft purchases. Moseley pledged "to get the right people back into that process." Fitzgerald, for one, says he's ready to help: "I have unfinished business here." --By Mark Thompson