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					                  Institutional Integrity- Speaking Truth to Power

(speech given by Coleen Rowley at NASA Legal Conference, 4/29/2004, in New
Orleans, Louisiana)

             Other than what I’ve read in newspapers, I know nothing about the
             launching of space shuttles or the other inherently risky business that
             NASA engages in. But in reading portions of the (very insightful!)
             Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s Report, I was struck by the
             similarity of some of the negative group-think and management factors
             that are endemic and common to another risky business that I’m more
             familiar with, that of attempting to prevent future acts of terrorism, and
             which (if my study this last year is accurate of a variety of other
             “whistleblowing” cases), actually seem to be endemic among so many, if
             not most, professional tasks.

             I suppose the reason for these parallels or (as the Report terms them)
             “echoes” is rooted in human nature but hopefully the discussion and better
             understanding of the fallibilities we are most prone to, will give us some
             measure of controlling and minimizing the potential for these foibles to
             play out and lead to further problems and sometimes disaster.

             I was struck by the following similarities between the history of what
             happened in both the Challenger and Columbia tragedies and what at least
             in part was responsible for hampering our investigation/disruption of the
             9-11 terrorists. Essentially what you have in all of these (for lack of a
             better term) “whistleblower” type cases (and in so many others- i.e. CIA
             analyst Sam Adams disputing Vietcong troop strength during Vietnam
             War; the priest who in 1985 uncovered the scope of the priest-pedophile
             problem, the leak of chemicals into ground water in California; and
             nuclear safety whistleblowers) is the little guy(s), who don’t have much
             clout or power in the organization but who do have the technical expertise
             or the facts (truth) and who then desperately try, many times
             unsuccessfully to raise their issue up the chain to a level which has the
             power to do something about the problem. Many times, in their
             desperation, the little guys try skipping a rung or two (over the perceived
             roadblock) or even “going outside” their chain of command in order to get
             the attention of person or persons who they hope might be more receptive.

             Unfortunately, in these scenarios, there are too many unhappy endings:
             many times the little guy is unsuccessful in convincing the higher-ups and
             either gives up or time runs out. The disaster and/or scandal is not
             prevented or minimized. The little guy blames him/herself for a long time

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    for not having tried harder or earlier (i.e. Daniel Ellsberg, Dietrich
    Bonhoeffer, Roger Boisjoly, and Sam Adams). Even when the little guys
    are listened to and remedial actions/changes made, the situation is such
    that no one can then ever know or prove what, if any, damage/tragedy was
    averted so, many times, the little guy is blamed for the extra
    expense/trouble and sometimes, as a consequence, loses his job/friends,

    So what are the issues and obstacles endemic to these scenarios?

    1) There is rarely a “silver bullet,”- that is there is rarely just one isolated
       fact or remedy that alone would be determinative of the hoped-for
       outcome. There is rarely an “answer” and an inordinate focus on the
       “answer” (the result) obscures the concrete steps (the means) to
       improvement. The series of things that have to come together to
       alleviate the problem and/or prevent/diminish the tragedy also serve to
       diffuse responsibility;

    2) The 20/20 hindsight problem; true countervailing risks and costs of
       “false positives” (i.e. the truth is unpleasant about the impossibility of
        preventing ALL jail suicides; preventing ALL acts of terrorism;
       preventing ALL accidents/disasters when operating a risky business so
       we tend to prefer to gloss over this unpleasant truth. We make
       promises or slogans that are not realistic and then become hypocrites
       worrying when 20/20 hindsight is applied.);

    3) Conflicts of interest and careerism. (i.e. the Linda Ham and Arthur
       Anderson problem. The good news is there are ways to regulate and
       structure things to combat some of these problems if we are realistic
       about the role this factor plays. For example, accounting companies
       like Arthur Anderson allowed to make money from consulting as well
       as auditing; the revolving door with government hierarchy and even
       the making of money from writing books/speechmaking after
       government service impacts one’s current ability to put the client or the
        public first);

    4) Reluctance to change and/or recognize a problem. Many concerns
       bring up or tie in with larger issues requiring larger and more difficult
       systemic improvement and it’s far easier for the Emperor to try to just
       keep marching. (i.e. the failure of the FBI to computerize b/c agents
       didn’t type and didn’t want to learn);

    5) Profit/greed/budget constraints. Even though actual profit/greed
       doesn’t loom as large a force in the government sector as in the
       private one, it’s still a big factor, and exerts an influence on decision-

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          6) “Whistleblower” perceived as trouble maker- the conflicting loyalties

          7) Group think- Asch test conformity and obedience issues- (i.e.
             whistleblower’s fear of being ridiculed);

          8) Pettifoggery or the incremental nature of mistakes/wrongdoing; and

          9) Uselessness of trying/hopelessness is HUGE - (i.e. rescuing the
             astronauts on board the Columbia which would have required an
             extraordinary effort, timing and spacewalk; “preventing 9-11” would
             have been very difficult if not impossible). However that is simply not
             the issue. We must TRY and with a little luck, no one knows the

    I.    INTEGRITY- simply defined is “doing right when there is no one to make
                      you do it but yourself” (Judge John Fletcher Moulton as
                     quoted by Edwin Delattre, Police Leadership Forum, Nov.

    II.   Doing right.

          Step 1 Discernment: Determine what is the right thing to do. This is
          relatively easy when a contemplated action is clearly criminal (i.e. illegal
          drugs) or violates a clear ethical mandate (i.e. lying) or when the action is
          clearly right because it’s legal and beneficial (i.e. helping others; following
          “golden rule”). However there is a gray area between right and wrong
          where competing interests sometimes result in “ethical dilemmas”
          (examples/problems involving moral relativism). We should be willing to
          devote enough thought and reflection, if need be, in consultation with
          other authorities, however, to make the gray area of moral relativism as
          thin a line as possible.

          Step 2 Action: Summon the courage to try to do the right thing. Just
          like Step 1 (making the determination) this can be easy or very hard (e.g.
          going against peer pressure; example of Unabomber Ted Kaszinsky’s
          brother contacting law enforcement).

          Ethical decision making in context of distinguishing “tattletaling” vs.
          “whistleblowing” (cartoon)- at least four criteria should be met:
                    1) Issue must be significant (i.e. classmate telling on another
                        classmate, “he stole my pencil” as opposed to Columbine
                        type situation of overhearing a classmate threaten to bring

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               weapons to school).
            2) Must be truthful and essentially right, despite the fact that in
               many cases there is no way of anyone having that type of
               perfect intelligence or completely knowing all of the
               pertinent facts (e.g. example of Challenger Shuttle explosion
               due to o-ring sealing failure).
            3) Motivation- must not be to promote self interest but interest
               of others or the public.
            4) Must be done in the most constructive, (not destructive) way.

    Step 3 Act openly and talk about it: But must be more than lip service
              (i.e. Enron’s Code of Ethics/ Kenneth Lay’s foreward/ Enron
              napkins with Dr. Martin Luther King quote, “Our lives begin
              to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”)

            a) Promotion of institutional integrity, so that all employees feel
               free, even obligated, to do the right thing, even if it has a
               short-term cost.

                “Integrity in the public service also imposes on public
                servants, at all levels, a commitment to the truth and
               therefore, an obligation to speak truth to power: to provide
              ministers and other supervisors with a full range of analysis
              and advice that will help them to take the best possible
              decisions for the public good.” (John Tait, A Strong
             Foundation: CCMD Study Team on Public Service Values
             and Ethics. Dec. 1996 pgs 34 and 72)

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