A Raytheon employee provided the specifics of the social media policy, which begins: "Raytheon Company recognizes that employees may wish to create, maintain, and participate in external social media tools such as blogs, wikis, chatrooms, podcasts, microblogging (e.g., Twitter), discussion boards, and participate in social websites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn."

But while the policy says the company "respects its employees' rights to personal expression," it also warns that Raytheon retains the right to "direct an employee to refrain from commenting on topics related to the Company or, take steps to remove or mitigate exposure of the offending material on the social media tool, to comply with applicable laws...and/or Company policy."

Spindler, who now works for an oil company in Port Arthur, Texas, maintains his own website, southpolestation.com, and says he has never been reprimanded or warned about it. "I do like the program, and I try to keep it positive," he says. "There are a few things I mention that may not be what everyone wants to see, but it's the facts, and it's newsworthy."

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
A group shot at McMurdo Station last May.
A group shot at McMurdo Station last May.

Still, Spindler says he's aware of numerous times that blog posts have been taken down, either at the request of Raytheon or the NSF. One described an alcohol-infused Christmas Day 2007 fight in which two men had to be evacuated. Another concerned a woman who got lost while she was checking furnaces during the winter of 2005. The woman was rescued by other staffers, but an ensuing post created quite a safety stir.

"They warn you a couple of times to be careful what you say," Spindler notes.

In late June 2008, while Johnson was being admonished for his blog, the National Science Foundation was preparing to solicit bids for its next thirteen-and-a-half-year contract. By that October, the agency had finalized the request for proposals. Bids were due in February, and the NSF was supposed to evaluate them over next eight months, with a decision due October 1, 2009.

But something has delayed the process. NSF contracting officer Bart Bridwell says he can't comment on what that something was, but he insists that a new timeline should be posted on the agency's website sometime soon. The award will be based on the winner's ability to handle the mission, he explains; until that determination is made, Raytheon may be asked to extend its current contract work.

"It's a very complicated contract, and only the biggest and best can take it on," says Dr. Conrad Lautenbacher, vice president of polar programs at defense contractor Computer Sciences Corporation. "There are seven companies bidding, and each one has put together a team. Each of the companies that is bidding is trying to provide the best value."

CSC has teamed up with former Antarctic contractor EG&G (now a division of URS Corporation), while Raytheon has paired with AECOM, the former Holmes & Narver. Lockheed Martin Corporation has also submitted a bid. "It's a natural fit for us. It's a good contract, an important mission for the United States and for science, and it lasts a number of years," adds Lautenbacher, a retired Navy vice admiral and former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Joe Wagovich says his company is also a good fit because it has a lot of experience operating in difficult places, such as war zones, remote areas and even space. "We are really good at working in a scientific setting in a hostile environment," he notes.

Neither CSC nor Lockheed Martin was given a reason for the delay.

Raytheon is currently training new employees who will be flying to Antarctica for the summer, putting them through classes on ethics, IT security, diversity, survival skills, safety, energy conservation and many others. While she declines to talk about the company's push for the new contract, Carroll says that Raytheon is proud of its record and the accomplishments of the scientists who have spent time there over the past decade.

"Some of the 'hot button' issues for the NSF are to continue to improve the IT infrastructure on the ice, to move science data remotely, and to support more complex, large, deep-field science projects that will help answer some of the most pressing questions about climate change, as well as glaciology, geology, etc.," she says.

In fact, hundreds of scientists have made the trek to Antarctica to study everything from the extinction of an elephant seal colony to the flow dynamics of sea glaciers. Numerous discoveries have been made, including the existence of microbial life living in a previously unmapped reservoir beneath an inland glacier and a connection between tiny increases in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet. Raytheon is now involved with the NSF in something called Ice Cube, an energy-detecting array beneath the ice. The huge contraption will search for interactions between ice and neutrinos, which are impossibly small bits of energy from outer space.

If CSC were to win the contract, Lautenbacher says, the company would likely keep the polar support offices in Denver. As the former head of NOAA, he's familiar with Colorado and says he has a "great appreciation of the expertise of the folks who live in Denver."

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