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The National Science Foundation took over responsibility for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) from the Navy in 1971, though the Navy maintained a significant presence there. The government had been hiring private contractors to support scientific operations since the late 1950s, and that increased in the 1960s and '70s. The first private contractor to operate an entire station was California's Holmes & Narver (now called AECOM, the company has teamed with Raytheon on its latest bid effort). It was followed by ITT Antarctic Services in 1980 and Antarctic Support Associates, a partnership between Holmes & Narver and EG&G (which is also bidding on the contract this year) in 1990. Because ASA had employees in the Denver area, Colorado became the headquarters for Antarctic support that year.
By the time Raytheon took over in 2000, the Navy was no longer involved, but the company inherited some military culture and traditions, like Midwinter's Day. Carroll notes that a major part of Raytheon's early mission was to help smooth the transition for a civilian population. "Any cultural changes occur naturally with time," she explains in an e-mail. "Some naval/military lingo still lingers, and many of our employees have previous military background, some of them when the Navy supported the U.S. Antarctic Program. I would say the culture has evolved continuously since the late 1950s. Then it was all Navy men doing the work. Today we employ a large number of women in every role imaginable."
The transition has hit a few bumps. In 2008, Raytheon canceled the extra day off.
The decision wasn't explained, and on June 11, 2008, blogger Nick Johnson posted the following message on his site, BigDeadPlace.com: "For those who haven't heard, someone in Denver has decided that U.S. Antarctic stations this year won't have the day off for Midwinter's Day dinner (June 21st). No big deal. However, coincidentally, on June 21, [Raytheon Polar Services] is sponsoring, for its 250+ employees in the office, a 'Summer Picnic' at a Denver-area amusement park called Elitch Gardens, including a picnic and a Randy Travis concert."
This wasn't the first time that Johnson, a heavy equipment operator at McMurdo, had been critical of his employer. In fact, his blog had frequently commented on Raytheon policies or procedures, and his 2005 Feral House book, BigDeadPlace, was described on amazon.com as follows: "When Johnson went to work for the U.S. Antarctic Program...he figured he'd find adventure, beauty, penguins and lofty-minded scientists. Instead, he found boredom, alcohol and bureaucracy.... Johnson quickly shed his illusions about Antarctica. Since he and his co-workers seldom ventured beyond the station's grim, functional buildings, they spent most of their time finding ways to entertain themselves, drinking beer, bowling and making home movies. The dorm-like atmosphere, complete with sexual hijinks and obscene costume parties, sometimes made life there feel like 'a cheap knock-off of some original meaty experience.'"
Johnson managed to remain employed after the book came out, and he started signing his name to his blog. And in May 1998, he began posting questions from Raytheon's anonymous suggestion box, along with management's answers. The exchanges seemed innocuous enough — but not to Raytheon. So instead of partying on Midwinter's Day in 2008, Johnson was called in for a teleconference with Sam Feola, the program director for Raytheon Polar Services.
"He told me I had made some blog posts that involved 'sensitive information,'" Johnson remembers. "I didn't say I would take anything down, I didn't say I wouldn't, but I asked, 'What information, specifically, do you want me to take down?' He replied, 'All the information.' I wasn't going to do that."
Although Johnson had worked in Antarctica off and on for a decade, Raytheon didn't renew his contract for the following year. "I was blacklisted," Johnson says. "That's how it works. No one is surprised."
Raytheon, which kept its Antarctic headquarters in the Denver area after taking over from ASA in 1990, has 354 employees in Centennial, including Feola, who declined to be interviewed for this story. Carroll, who's also based there, turned down a request to tour the facility, citing "the sensitive Antarctic Support Contract competition." She says she isn't familiar with Johnson's situation and so can't comment on it.
One Raytheon employee is not as reluctant to discuss Johnson. "Personally, I feel that if you use the web to air grievances with [Raytheon] and the USAP program, you are volunteering to never work in the program again," this employee, who asked to remain anonymous, says.
Still, the perceived censorship, along with the cancellation of Midwinter's Day in 2008 and other issues, remain a concern. "I have seen a big change in the way the companies have handled morale over the years," the employee, who also has a blog, says. "When I started, there was a big recreation department, dedicated to keeping us happy and busy. This winter there was zero recreation, at least fostered by the company or NSF. I used to tell my non-ice friends that the USAP program went out of their way to provide good morale to cut down on random drinking and negativity. There is no sign any more that anyone cares about that at all, at least in the winter.