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Chief Blue Origin complaint author disputes cause of termination, while the space company’s CEO does damage control

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith wasted no time responding to allegations of a hostile work environment, sending an internal letter to employees Thursday encouraging staff to speak to him directly or via an in-house anonymous hotline with their concerns. Of course, it’s standard practice for companies like Blue Origin to prefer handling complaints internally rather than in the public arena.

The letter from Smith, which was first obtained by CNBC, comes on the heels of an essay jointly composed by 21 current and former Blue Origin employees detailing serious concerns regarding safety and sexual harassment at the company.

Alexandra Abrams, former head of employee communications, is the sole named author of the essay. She told TechCrunch in a new interview that she decided to go public with her identity because she felt a sense of responsibility for other employees.

“I really felt like I had compromised my integrity at Blue Origin,” she said. “I did my best, but I was Bob’s executive communicator and helped make him look good.”

The essay details two instances of alleged sexual harassment by senior executives, including one instances of a senior leader being let go after groping a female employee — notably, Abrams said, only five of the 21 people who contributed to the essay are men. The essay also alleges that safety at Blue Origin took a backseat to speed of execution, with leadership insisting on a breakneck pace that wasn’t supported by adequate staffing or resources.

“SpaceX has always been much better staffed than Blue Origin,” Abrams said.

Blue Origin said in a statement that Abrams was dismissed “for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.” However, Abrams said she never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues related to federal export control regulations.

Instead, she says her termination came after initiating a project to develop an internal employee app. Two weeks after that app, called Voyager, went live, it was discovered that part of its architecture was not secure — this is a major concern in the aerospace industry, as all communications tools must be compliant with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of regulations governing tech related to defense and space.

Abrams says she immediately escalated the issue. While senior management conducted an investigation and found no export violations occurred, senior executives reportedly told her that “she could no longer be trusted” and fired her.

“As a communications professional, and part of the non-technical staff, I was not responsible for certifying or approving any compliance of any third-party software architecture. And to-date, as far as I’m aware, the software in question is still used by Blue Origin and Amazon,” she added.

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was “reviewing the information” detailed in the essay. Abrams said that the agency has not reached out to her, but that she would “very much welcome” that.


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