Ethics in Engineering and Science Forum—Sylvia Robins, Doug Ross and Ralph Nader
PENG: Good evening, distinguished panelists, fellow students, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Scott Peng. And I'm the chairman of Academic Projects and Policy Committee of the Graduate Student Council. And on behalf of MIT, I'd like to welcome all of you here tonight to the forum on Ethics and Engineering and Science.
Before we start, I'd like to thank a few people, whose efforts and time have made all this possible. First, I'd like to thank the following MIT individuals, President Paul Gray, Dean McBay, Dean Perkins of the Graduate School, the MIT corporation, and the MIT Alumni Association for their financial support of this forum. Secondly, I'd like to thank a few people who although are not members of the Graduate Student Council, nevertheless put forth a lot of effort on our behalf.
Dean Perkins, the Dean of Graduate School is one of these people. His advice and support during last half year's preparation has helped greatly. Professors Charles Weiner and Nicholas Ashford must be thanked for their advice, direction, and assistance. We'll also acknowledge the efforts of Professor Whitbeck, the moderator. Her experience in teaching courses on ethics in the engineering curriculum has contributed greatly to the fruition of the forum.
I'd also like to thank Ashdown House for graciously agreeing to host the post-forum reception for us, and Rich Callan and his people for volunteering to publicize this event. Last, and definitely not least, I'd like to thank the students who put this forum together. With the exception of the people mentioned above, this forum was conceived, planned, and put together by the graduate students at MIT, or more specifically, by a group of 12 students on my committee. Their efforts and dedication are what made this forum possible. Jeff Meredith, John [INAUDIBLE], Mark Hansen, Mike Warwick, Scott Maxwell, [INAUDIBLE], Scott Sikorski, Robin Michnick, John Hawkins, Mike Rosenberg, Steve Farber, and Maya Metrich. It's been an honor and privilege for me to work with them, the graduate students of MIT.
And now, on with the forum. You've all been provided with an index card upon entering. It is for you to write a question, should you have any, after the first part of the forum. After the speakers have finished their presentations, we will have people walking down the aisles collecting these cards from you, and a few questions will be selected to be posed to the panelists.
As I mentioned before, there will be a reception after the forum at Ashdown House here at MIT, which is located on the corner of Mass Ave and Memorial Drive. The reception is open to all. Now I'd like to introduce the moderator for tonight's forum, Professor Whitbeck.
She is currently senior lecturer in mechanical engineering and senior research scholar at MIT Center for Technology and Policy. She's been actively involved in bringing ethical considerations into the engineering curriculum and was recently named fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her work in engineering ethics. Professor Whitbeck.
WHITBECK: Thank you Scott. And I'd like to thank the Graduate Student Council for enriching our life with this discussion this evening. The intent of this forum is to discuss responsible and effective means by which engineers and applied scientists can raise their ethical issues in corporate and institutional environments. We will be discussing the subject of whistle blowing, that is, taking one's ethical concerns outside of one's corporation or institution.
But that will not be our only topic here. We're concerned with a variety of questions. For example, what avenues ought corporations to offer their employees for raising ethical concerns? And how may an engineer judge the quality and efficacy of these avenues?
Our first speaker, Sylvia Robins, has had extensive experience in raising ethical issues at her employment. She is a Rockwell Shuttle Operations company engineer, working on the space shuttle contract for NASA, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She was formally a supervisor working for the Unisys corporation, another contractor for the for the shuttle contract. Prior to that time, she worked as department manager and project engineer for the Singer Link flight simulation company in Houston, Texas.
Mrs. Robins was featured in a February 1, 1988 issue of Time Magazine, which documented the harassment that she experienced when she raised her concerns about fraud and abuses in the space shuttle contract. These abuses included safety and security issues, as well as exposure of time card, fraud, sex discrimination in pay scales, and the associated cover up by corporate and NASA officials. On April 6, The Wall Street Journal carried the story of the indictment of Rockwell for $14 billion of fraudulent charges against the government. Many of the charges made by Sylvia Robins are echoed in this indictment. It's my pleasure to introduce to you Sylvia Robins.
ROBINS: First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to the Graduate Student Council for the opportunity to be here this evening and share with you my experiences. It is my sincere belief and hope that no one here tonight will be faced with the situations with which I'm about to discuss with you. I'd like to begin by reading the rules of the American Society of Civil Engineers code of ethics.
"Engineers shall hold the safety, health, and welfare of the public and the performance of their professional duties. Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence. Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner. Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees and shall avoid conflicts of interest. Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their service and shall not compete unfairly with others.
Engineers shall act in a manner as to uphold and enhance the honor, integrity, and dignity of the engineering profession. Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision."
I would like to share with you tonight my thoughts on ethics in engineering, professional responsibility and accountability, and my experiences as they relate like to the plight of the whistleblower. I'm currently employed as a systems engineer working for the Rockwell Shuttle Operations company on the space transportation systems operations contract at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. I was formerly employed as a section supervisor by Unisys on the same contract and was forced from my position after I voiced concerns about management abuses and illegalities.
Rockwell is the prime contractor to NASA, responsible for the overall operations of flight hardware and software for the space shuttle contract. Unisys, a subcontractor to Roswell, is responsible for the software. During the time, from February to September in 1986, in the course of my supervisory responsibilities, I identified safety problems, security breaches, management deficiencies, contractual illegalities, and violations of company policies and procedures.
Unisys was overcharging Rockwell for work as their subcontractor by padding unnecessary man hours and personnel on task resulting in a duplication of effort. There were security problems in the department, as one employee, who was responsible for handling red classified data, such as tapes, computer printouts, microfiche documents, and electronic data sets, was abusing drugs on the job.
When I reported concerns to my supervisors, I was told by Unisys management to drop the issue. The employee was a potential security risk and her actions constituted a security violation. Since the individual was one of my section employees, I tried to secure assistance through the company medical services. But management told me to butt out. The problem would correct itself.
Another security violation, which affected my department was our inability to maintain red or classified products for processing and distribution, due to the inadequate and improper operating procedures. These flight software product support classified DOD missions. There had been continuing company debate over the issue of how we could protect the integrity of the classified products, when we had no bonded warehouse, no secure containers, such a safes or storage of the classified data nor secure couriers.
Each time discussions were held concerning secure issues, I was once again pressured not to pursue the resolution. The classified issues had to be resolved in order for the company to fulfill contractual requirements. The products and support of the flight software could not meet customer delivery dates, because of critical problems with the processing of microfiche in the software production facility at JSC and Houston.
I was tasked in June, 1986 by Rockwell management to work and resolve the microfiche incapacity problem, because our product deliveries were habitually late and did not meet minimum quality standards. We worked hard to resolve the issue, carried it to NASA for sign off. And commendation letters were forthcoming to the section.
Because the budget was tight, the change request for replacing the equipment was postponed, and Unisys management let me know that they were unhappy with me, because it would cost them more money to produce quality products and to do things right. 13 days later, I was removed from my position, because they feared I would continue to address the problems.
Other issues included schedule product template compression giving my section no processing time for flight software product deliveries, incomplete backup flight software verification and reports, gross equal pay violation, and time card falsification. Improper procedures were being forced upon Unisys employees by management in the altering of the shuttle mission simulators and the software used for astronaut training. Test procedures were poor at best, and there was rubber stamping of the tests, which were not being properly performed. One of the most flagrant issues was the listing of a fictitious person, a stuffed, toy blue and white elephant in the official company telephone directory as a Unisys employee.
I reported and formally filed concerns with Unisys and Rockwell supervisors. Only after I was threatened with my job and told I would be fired if I pursued resolution of the deficiencies, did I take the concerns to NASA, the Inspector General, the FBI, and the company ombudsman. Because the deficiencies posed potential safety and security hazards to the crew and the overall program, I continued to try and resolve the issues. Even after I was demoted, I attempted to seek help from Rockwell's upper management to review the inadequacies only to be threatened again.
As a result of my whistle blowing, I have been harassed at work and home, verbally abused, telephone and activities monitored, followed by the Rockwell security department, home telephone wire tap, defamed, demoted. The company denied me sick leave. My privacy has been invaded, and there have been threats placed upon my home, family, and life. There was even a threat placed upon my nine-year-old son.
Every day men and women call a halt to mismanagement, waste, fraud, and corruption. Every day they save lives, money, and help build a climate of integrity in government, industry, academia, and local communities. The Challenger Space Shuttle disaster might have been averted had a corporation listened to the warnings of its engineers. That Morton Thiokol and NASA failed to act when engineers warned about the possible effect of the cold Florida weather on the booster rocket o rings seems astonishing in retrospect.
NASA and Morton Thiokol management constituted the unethical decision making forum, which ultimately produced the management decision to launch Challenger without any restrictions. Roger Boisjoly, the senior engineer at Morton Thiokol, involved with the solid rocket motor since 1980, told me how he desperately made attempts to reverse the launch, the decision, on the eve of the Challenger disaster based on factual engineering data supporting his evidence of o ring failure. The documentation unmistakably supported a no launch decision, and yet there was no engineering assessment made during the caucus on the eve of the launch. And Morton Thiokol senior management reversed a sound technical recommendation without one shred of supporting technical data or any reevaluation of that data. They took off their engineering hats and made a management decision, as told to the Rogers Commission assigned to investigate the cause of the accident.
In a world of moral uncertainty, for many people, ethics has become a bellwether of right behavior and a barometer of public thinking. Questions about what is right or wrong are being asked more and more by a broad range of people in all disciplines, business, government, medicine, science, education, and the news media. Many claim to be caught in a moral bind as they confront ethical dilemmas and say they want, if not simple answers, morally acceptable choices.
Certain questions about right and wrong are not new. Once we get more and more into technological issues and questions of conscience, we found there are no simple answers. The increase in technology and knowledge has outstripped our values. We don't have a common value system on which to draw.
It is one thing to agree on ethical principles. It is quite another to live by them in a real world, where the issues are complex, the interests are conflicting, and where decisions must be made under stress. Ordinary pressures or compounded in many practical business situations where decisions must be made in the context of time and other pressures, which often preclude reasoned reflection and extended discussion.
Even when discussions or had, the pervasiveness of insider assumptions and the prominence of self-interest tend to cause decision makers to exaggerate the importance of their goals and minimize the significance of the ethical implications of the methods employed. These facts create a need for a more systematic and rigorous approach to making sound, practical, ethical decisions.
Through case study methods such as the Hastings Center in New York, a 19-year-old think tank, they have found that it's not an embezzler or kickbacks, but the misconduct is the manager, who is doing things he's ashamed of and that might violate company policy or law and yet thinks he can't keep his job without doing it. There has to be a way for good employees with good consciences to perform their jobs and meet their professional challenges without having their careers destroyed.
There is a great need for higher ethical standards in the workplace. People know that they have been operating in relative shades of grey for years. There's often more than innate morality that motivates people to behave ethically. If you don't have a positive attitude towards ethics, it can be costly. In the space program, it cost the lives of seven astronauts. And it can create a threat to our country's national defense.
We cannot allow ourselves to continue without stepping back and asking the question, what are the consequences? What are our ethics? It has been said that ethics is in a state of anesthesia. What is everyone's professional responsibility and ethical conduct code, which should be practiced in the workplace?
Engineers have a responsibility that goes far beyond the building of machines and systems. We cannot leave it to the technical administrators to decide what is safe and for the public good. We must tell what we know through administrative channels, but when this fails, seek whatever avenues we can find. Sometimes the penalty of protesting is to put disapproval, loss of status, and vilification can be severe.
Today we need more critical pronouncements and published declaration by engineers and high professional responsibilities. In some instances, such criticism must be severe if we are to properly serve mankind and preserve our freedom. It is of the utmost importance that we maintain our freedom of communication in the engineering profession and to the public.
In most companies, there is the tendency to kill the messenger bringing the bad news rather than punishing the wrongdoer. People who hang tough with the organization manage to do very well. Getting along by going along, hanging in there, and not protesting is valued highly. They manage to survive because of their fundamental and correct belief that the organization will protect them.
Upon exposing serious safety and security deficiencies in the space program at JSC in Houston, I became an example of shoot the messenger syndrome. A report prepared by a committee of safety experts for senior officials with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the safety risk assessment ad hoc committee report, submitted in August, 1987, cited disturbing that some of the pre-Challenger safety problems identified in the aftermath of the accident still exist today. The report was not discovered until much later and NASA officials in January, 1988, stated that it was not meant for public consumption.
The report revealed inadequacies in safety critical designs, hazards analysis, lack of quality assurance checks on interface controls, and integration hazards, errors in assembly and processing with improper quality on supervision sign-offs of flight critical items including flight hardware and software. There was evidence of rubber stamping on safety and quality products.
In the review of the safety critical redesign, the hazards analysis is being done to reflect the design selection. This follows the pre-51L pattern of safety documentation of risk decisions, rather than a proactive safety analysis, which influences the design. The report addresses the shoot the messenger syndrome and indicates on the hesitancy of individuals to be the bearers of bad news, because employees who have been such messengers have incurred a gamut of criticism, ranging from displeasure to outright wrath.
Also, there is evidence that even the astronauts may be reluctant to complain because of the fear of being prevented from flying. This 68 page safety report with 72 recommendations suggested to correct the problems in the organizations, which are responsible for the implementation, had not even been given to several of the astronauts who were scheduled to fly on the next flight. This report confirmed the very issues I voiced two years ago. It was this report, of which I had no knowledge, that triggered this February 1 Time Magazine article.
As I stated earlier, I sought help from the company president, supervisors, managers, the NASA Inspector General, the FBI, congressional representatives, before I went public in September 1987. Within two hours of my press conference, the walls moved in around me. I returned to my office the following Monday, to find that my office walls had been moved in 3 and 1/2 feet. I endearingly referred to it as my dog run. I'm the only employee who can sit in the building and touch both walls.
Shortly after I discovered my cozy new surroundings, I was summoned down to the company's security department. I had been told that DOD investigators wanted to interrogate me about the reported security breaches. I had no problem discussing the security violation, but if that wasn't an intimidating enough experience, I was not allowed a witness nor a tape recorder and was threatened by company security officials informing me that I must cooperate under all circumstances, or I would lose my secret clearance.
Of course I complied. Since that time, I have been monitored outside my home and work. Threats have been made upon my home and family members. And my property destroyed. The life of one of my witnesses daughters was threatened just moments before the press conference. My co-plaintiff has equally been harassed and eventually fired because she refused to participate in a meeting as part of the company's strategy to remove me. She was ordered along with my subordinates to falsify time sheets. And when she refused she refused to charge time that she has not worked, she too was demoted.
Management then altered her sign in outlog and wrongfully terminated her for inattentiveness. We have both been verbally abused and harassed by the department manager, who physically attempted to strike me in October, 1986, and charged at my co-plaintiff in the spring of '87. To date, the harassment continues.
In a letter to NASA's top brass in March, 1986, just after the Challenger disaster, John Young, one of our most decorated astronauts wrote, "There is only one driving reason that such a potentially dangerous system, such as the Challenger, would ever be allowed to fly. Launch schedule pressure." John Young was immediately reassigned as assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center. Some NASA insiders say the move was made to silence Young because he publicly criticized safety efforts and management at NASA after the disaster. Young broke the unwritten rule, NASA's astronauts are supposed to remain silent.
This is the same kind of climate that prevails within the Rockwell Houston facility among the subcontractor work force. The workers that protest safety or management issues are threatened, silenced, suspended, or fired. Needless to say, management by intimidation is not conducive for the teamwork required for a safe return to flight.
It is unfortunate that most corporations continue to view whistle blowers as malcontents, troublemakers, or disgruntled employees. Many companies actively take retaliatory action against the whistle blower, such as I had described. Historically, government agencies and corporations have reacted to employee disclosure of improper or illegal activities by punishing the employee.
Although the techniques vary, corporations employ a wide variety of options to retaliate against the bureaucratic dissenters. Frequent choices have ranged from outright termination on trumped up charges of incompetence or wrongdoing, transferred to a bureaucratic Siberia, forced psychiatric examination, to the removal of all meaningful duties. A recent study of 233 whistle blowers surveyed has been published by Dr. Don Soeken, President of the Association of Mental Health Specialties in Laurel, Maryland, and his wife Karen, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.
According to the survey, most whistle blowers reported that the first sound they sounded the alarm, nothing happened. For 80% of the sample, the initial action was considered unsuccessful, and they subsequently pursued other avenues, primarily external routes. What does this suggest? It says that if a whistle blower goes to his supervisor, who often has a bureaucratic tie-in, he's making a mistake. The manager, rather than to try to remedy what went wrong, is more likely to get angry at the employee. Rather than work to correct the problem, Rockwell chooses to remove the employee.
Management generally does not want to hear about the problems. And if they are serious in nature, the result is most likely that the corporation overreacts to the allegations, and retaliation generally follows. In Dr. Soeken's study, he professes that harassment came from supervisors 82%, as well as from peers, 53%, included verbal harassment and abuse, telephone and activity monitoring, denial of sick leave request, or being ignored. Job-related retaliation included demotion, firing, and forced retirement.
Corporate whistle blowers are more likely to lose their jobs, 84%, than in government, 49%. For whistle blowers in the nuclear industry, retaliation was likely to mean being blackballed from the entire industry.
The emotional and financial toll of the retaliation is severe, as one sees their life's work going down the drain. Many engineers with years of education and experience see themselves losing all of that. A feeling of powerlessness takes hold. I was demoted, transferred, and then given responsibilities of tasks with impossible constraints and unrealistic deadlines. The finale of this tactic is to dismiss the employee as incompetent.
One of Soeken's whistle blowers, who had worked on a nuclear power plant, was sent literally to the desert in California. They are uprooted, isolated, and may be told, we no longer have a need for this particular job, so we are dismissing you. 17% of the whistle blowers lost homes. 8% filed bankruptcy. 15% percent ended in divorce. And 10% committed suicide. Only 20% indicated that positive changes were made as a result of their activities, such as personnel changes, changes in company policy, indictments, improved safety, or official investigations by the FBI or NRC. Whistle blowers are warned to expect retaliation, financial loss, and mental anguish along with the deterioration of one's physical health.
My health is much worse today than it was two years ago. I went public in hopes of protecting myself, my family, and to inform the general public of the serious nature of some of the Space Shuttle program deficiencies. In my case, I failed to recognize that I was a whistle blower until after I had acted. Only then did I discover the cold consequences.
I had never worked in a company where I was punished for doing my job. I didn't realize that exposing the companies abuses would set off such an alarm. The cover up activities by the companies which quickly followed were equally shocking. I feel that management should welcome the employees' concerns and that whistle blowers should be recognized as corporate assets.
I'm referring to substantive issues, not the petty day to day problems. How then, can companies protect whistle blowers? The company ombudsman is not the solution, since the ombudsman works for management and can't remain neutral. In the Rockwell facility in Houston calls to the ombudsman are routed back to the company's security department, who in turn puts you on their hit list.
The ethics committee at Rockwell is directed by the same security department whose very individuals monitored my activities and tapped my office telephone. Did the Morton Thiokol NASA Challenger disaster have any discernible effect on how corporations have behaved since toward whistle blowers? If Morton Thiokol had lost the government contract, it might have had more effect, but it didn't. To some extent, it's business as usual.
The best way to reduce problems is to get the company healthy. Corporations should develop policies, which require free and open discussion with management support for disclosure of problems with no fear of reprisal or retaliation taken against employees. Blowing the whistle is one of life's tests of values, personal strength and stamina. It is a task in which the stakes may be professional, emotional, and financial survival.
Even with strong legal protection, whistle blowers pay for their integrity with their careers. Whistle blowers do not need a big brother. However, they do need the same access to the courts for defense of their constitutional rights as consistently enjoyed by the American public that benefit from their dissent.
If you are confronted with the ethical dilemma of blowing the whistle, and you feel that the company does not openly accept problem issues, then my suggestion is to report the concerns as a group. It is harder to dismiss a department of engineers than it is an individual. Group petitions sometimes work effectively to bring about change. That way, a single individual can't be incriminated.
These are lessons I learned just a little late. Of course, you can always report problems through anonymous letters but seek whatever means are necessary through alternate channels. Some think the erosion of our standards has crossed the line of reversal. I do not share that pessimism. I prefer to think that there is enough tough genetic material in the American people to rebound.
All of you must evaluate your careers and emerge with the knowledge and conviction that you have a professional and moral responsibility to yourselves, to your fellow man, and to defend the truth and expose any questionable practices that may lead to an unsafe product. Don't just sit passively when you know in your heart that you can make a constructive contribution. And also be prepared to share your ideas with others.
You have a responsibility to promote the best product for the company and put personal pride aside. This is the best way to cultivate colleague respect and friendship, which in the industry always results in a positive long term benefit for you, the company, and its product line. I have been asked by some if I would come forward again if I knew in advance of the potential consequences to me, my family, and my career. My answer is always yes.
I couldn't live with any self respect or command respect from others if I tailored my actions upon personal consequences resulting from my actions. Together as colleagues we can all accomplish the goal to reduce unethical decision making practices, policies, and procedures within our industrial and government communities.
The space program, as well as other interests, cannot be allowed to become wrought with attitudes of indifference, complacency, greed, carelessness incompetency, nor lack of attention to details, which fosters unethical decision making. We must regain dedication to excellence and workmanship as there was during the days when space quest inspired all of us. Management must provide the leadership and inspiration to rekindle the team spirit and pride of accomplishment.
A vigorous and extensive manned spaceflight motivation program must be revitalized in order to regain national prestige, progress of science and technology, and the aspirations of mankind. Most significant, however, all members of the engineering and scientific communities must defend their professional integrity with the same intensity that they defend their political freedoms. As with political liberty, the price of professional freedom is eternal vigilance. Thank you very much
WHITBECK: Our next speaker is Doug Ross. He has had many contacts with MIT since coming here in 1951 as a teaching assistant in mathematics. In the 1950s and 1960s, he headed the computer applications group of the electronic systems laboratory with achievements in APT language for programming numerically controlled machine tools and early work in computer aided design, graphics, and software methodology.
In 1969, he founded SofTech, now a 600 person company with headquarters in Waltham. As founder, president, and now chairman of the board, he has acquired a great deal of experience relevant to the issues that we will be considering this evening. Doug Ross.
ROSS: That was quite a tale to follow, right? But actually, if you find me sort of stumbling around getting started with remarks I intend to make, that's because I have a problem. In fact, I have a personal, ethical dilemma.
You see, and it's not unlike the kind of ethical dilemma that an ordinary scientist or engineer would find as they go enjoying just some ordinary company, never mind all this big gun stuff. It's very easy to stumble into situations where you find that you have an ethical dilemma.
Now in my case, I have to decide whether or not to be a whistle blower, because something's wrong here. You see the organization that I agreed to join-- I agreed to serve on this panel-- was much like a company. They have their own objectives. I've liked very much those objectives. I feel very much in tune with them. I thought I could make a contribution. I've enjoyed meeting the people that I'm serving with. So I'm very pleased with my job.
And yet as soon as I get in here, what do I find? A problem. And it's one I can't dodge. Because I'm involved, even though I had nothing to do with making it a problem. Again, this is typical of what you actually will encounter when you're not in the real hot soup like Sylvia was just describing to us.
Now I have to face this, you see. And I'll tell you what the problem is. It's whether or not I should be a whistle blower, right now. Because you see, on all the bulletin boards that you've seen as I walk down the Infinite Corridor down there, all over the place are little yellow sheets encouraging you all to come here tonight and be the customer for what this organization is going to deliver to you as the marketplace.
And right there it says, Doug Ross CEO SofTek. My problem is I'm not the CEO of SofTek. I haven't been the CEO of SofTek since before I stopped being president of SofTek. I'm a technical person more than a business, business person. And so way back in the early days, I decided that in order to have SofTek be healthy, I'd better make somebody else senior vice president, CEO for the company, even though I was the president. We didn't even have a chairman then. And that situation has remained as I moved up to chairman position, you see.
So now that I've got this off my chest-- and most of the time, chairmen turn out to be CEOs. But it's not necessarily true. And so even though I don't want to have anybody feeling badly about having this false advertising all over the place, now I'm actually quite pleased with it. Because it gave me this way of introducing what I had to say.
Things have a way of working out, as well as being bad. You see it's impossible for me to stand up here and be a representative of all CEOs. And as you've just heard, it's impossible for me to be even a representative CEO. I'm not.
But I have been through those routes. And I've had my own versions of ethical dilemmas over and over, making really tough decisions along the way, many of them affecting lots of people, lots in my terms. And that's just what goes with the job. But I don't think I could supply you any rational set of war stories that would actually give you anything to walk away with.
And so I decided that I would actually confess to what I really do these days, and what I've been doing all along. I'm really just a professional thinker. On occasion, I put my thoughts into action. I become a doer, and I start companies and things like that and get on panels and so forth. But my real purpose in life is to understand how we understand problems and try to do that understanding by understanding how the words that we use work. Because that's what we think with. That's what we understand through.
And so I had it in mind that because it's impossible to make a useful distinction between ethics in business and personal ethics, or personal ethics and personal morals-- you see, there's two different words coming in again-- all I can really do here was try to set the stage, leave you with some memorable thoughts that you could take off yourself into your own future, and maybe that would turn out to be helpful in understanding some of these things that make such very difficult problems to think about, these ethical dilemmas. So I'm going to try to provide a framework for reasoning about these kinds of problems in general. And hopefully, when we get to the discussion in the panel context, my efforts to apply this framework for reasoning, my particular use of the terminologies and so forth, will bring the ideas to life. And you will see that maybe there is something useful to it. And that will be the contribution I think I can make.
Now in order to make a framework for this framework for reasoning, over the years as I've tried to understand business, it always comes back to just one thing. There's one principle thing behind business, and that's delegation. And we have delegation of responsibility, delegation of authority, and delegation of accountability. Those three things, all are needed, and all are different.
Now delegation of responsibility, in order to make this make sense, let's think that I'm a manager, and I have a certain amount of turf that I've gotten from my manager. And I'm delegating to one of my subordinates. And what I do is I take a great big cookie cutter, and I cut out a piece of that and I pass it over to him. And I say, I'm delegating you responsibility for that piece of my turf.
Now delegation is 100%. When I do that, all I'm doing, and the only responsibility I retain, is responsibility for the defined boundary. In order for that person to rationally take their job, they have to accept, and I have to give, 100% responsibility for the inside of the cookie. I will continue to monitor the boundary and that sort of thing. That remains my responsibility. But they have responsibility for what's inside.
Now when it comes to authority, the delegation of authority. That's different. Because delegation of authority always must be limited. It takes the form of the limited amount of resources that I turn over. How much money? How many people? What rights to use those? What accounts with the customers? Those are the things that are passed over.
And at the same time, though, I also always put a limitation on the authority that goes with the use of those resources. And that should be in a formal memo that actually is titled, limitation on authority. And what this says is in the memo, I say to my subordinate, I say, within policy and procedures, the guidelines that the company corporation has set up in general, you can act entirely on your own in that area of your responsibility. You have complete authority there. On this place, these kinds of things, you have complete authority, as well, but I want to know what you've done. Report to me promptly on those.
In this area, before you act, please counsel with me. You still will be responsible. And you'll make the decision as to what to do. But I do want you to at least hear my counsel. So at least, I'll understand that you'll understand better on those. Now in everything else that I have not just delegated to you, I retain authority. I'm the one who's going to act. So I require of you there full reporting of that situation, so that I can act. In other words, my authority does penetrate that boundary in those areas.
So what do we have? We have responsibility is delegated 100%. Authority is delegated in a limited fashion, for good reasons. What about accountability?
Well accountability is really interesting, because accountability cannot be delegated, period. If you think about it, accountability can only be shared. My subordinate is accountable to me for his actions. But I am accountable to him also to provide the ability for him to do his job. I can't ask for the unreasonable.
And in the same way, I'm accountable to my boss, right up the chain. And my boss ends up with the CEO. And above that is the board of directors. And what's above that? Societal matters, the society itself. The corporation is chartered in the same way by the state to act as an individual. Corporations are, in the eyes of the law, an individual. And the board of directors is the one that keeps the CEO in office, and so forth on down the line.
And what's above government? The laws of nature themselves. Nature has follows the same pattern of what is allowed and what is not allowed. So when we pollute things and so forth, and our corporations become responsible for the actions of their workers in polluting, you see the whole chain. That's this tied together system of accountability that nothing can be done about. That's the nature of it.
So this view, as I say, this is sort of my Rosetta Stone, if you will, for understanding business in general. It's good for understanding management by objectives or for setting up of just compensation schemes, along with incentive compensation for extraordinary performance. It's good for career path development and guidance and counseling and training, teaching. But the interesting thing about it for tonight's context is that it also provides a very concise framework within which we can address and understand the impact of ethical dilemmas on us as individuals.
And I'd like to get into that as the next thing. Let's just take those two words, moral and ethical. What's the difference between them? Do you have a good idea yourselves as you just sit there? Think about it just for a moment.
You see, words, and the ideas that go with words, are the building blocks out of which we make our whole world view. That's us inside, seeing through those meanings and those words as they are used. So what I do in my professional thinking, you see, is I frequently go back to my great big thick, 1961 edition of the Webster's, and I look up the words. And boy is that enlightening. What do I find?
Well when I look up moral, it says, "moral comes from the Latin word, mos, m-o-s, meaning custom." What's customary for you? In other words, your morals come from who you are as a member of some culturally backgrounded tribe is the way I'd like to say it. In other words, how you were brought up, no questions of ethnic background. You see, that's not the important thing. It's who are the people you came into contact all the way along with, even right up to yesterday. How has that affected you? Who are you? That makes your total moral fiber.
And you look up ethical, the other word. Ethical in the dictionary comes out, it says it comes from the Greek word, ethicos, meaning, guess what, moral, ethical. A loop. But if you dig a little bit deeper, you find that the difference is that ethical is always used in conformity to a code. We have codes of ethics
And those codes come from this same kind of delegated, hierarchic structure building, organization building, world organizing with us in there and looking out at the world in that particular pattern, because that's where we're built, you see. That's where the rules come from. They're those very ones that we were talking about in the delegation.
And so if you want then to understand what happens and what the link is between ethical and moral and this business of delegation, this business of business, because business is only what people do. What people do in their roles is what makes business. What people do in their roles is what makes ethical dilemmas too. That's what we're getting at here.
And so if you think about what I've talked about with responsibility and authority and that shared accountability, it's the shared accountability that ties these things together. Think about that little piece of turf that I delegated with the subordinate inside. As he looks out, and as he delegates to his subordinates, up and down through that accountability chain that's the ethical thing. That's the thing that has the rules that has to have the rules in order to function. That's where the codes come from. So ethical is external directed.
Now moral is who is that person inside. Whether it goes up or down in the hierarchy, who's right there at that node in the system? Who's playing that role, really? So again, as I say, my little picture of delegation provides a very solid framework for getting some very concise, technical use of these words to maybe give me some help. I say maybe only though, because let's proceed with the dictionary.
If you look up lemma, we've all had lemmas when we took mathematics courses, but in general, what is a lemma? It's just an assumption that is adopted in order to derive some bigger thing from it. What's a dilemma? It's two lemmas, two sets of assumptions that come together, both of them equally drivable, equally good, and they come up here, and bang, they clash. That's a dilemma.
Now the interesting thing about tonight's subject matter is that we have a built-in dilemma. And you can't escape it. That's the dilemma of ethics versus morals. There is no way you can separate yourself from who you are organizationally, who you are as a member of these various tribes that you belong to, not just at your job. What school did you go to? Where did your family come from? Where do you spend your summers? What do you do for hobbies?
There's you in the middle playing all those roles. So there's no way out of this fact that I have a moral dilemma every time I have an ethical situation, whether it's a problem yet or not. I do have a dilemma.
Now my personal understanding, you see, of the ethical side, the one that has the structuring, comes because I joined the company. I liked what they were going to do. I thought I could make a contribution, have a good career. And I'm really glad to be here on this panel. I'm thrilled. And I really want that to be so.
And yet I find myself in a situation where something is wrong. Even if I'm the lowest person in the organization, just a worker with no more responsibility, authority, nor accountability than from my own individual time on the job, even at that level, I may very well be stuck with one of these situations where I have the question, am I to be a whistle blower or note? Not part of my job, but there I am.
The middle managers are really stuck. Because they frequently find themselves in situations that make them start to question the efficacy of the whole structure. They thought they liked what was going on. But now they see these things. They start to have all these really tough questions.
And the higher up you go in the management structure, the tougher that becomes. Because as you get to any levels, but especially at the higher ones, the managers are the ones who make the efficacy. And it's their responsibility. Remember, they held onto the responsibility for those boundaries for the structure itself. So they have to stay on top of it, monitoring, cajoling, educating, tweaking, poking they're nose in, trying to get communication that doesn't normally come up to them and so forth. That's maybe why they're paid so much. I don't know. I think they're overpaid most of them. That's what goes with the job.
And so no matter who you are in that structure, no matter what's your job or what's your role, when you have one of these awkward, real ethical dilemmas-- they don't come all the time. They don't come frequently. Hopefully, they very seldom, almost never come in Sylvia's heavy dose, you know, where she really had a thing to live through. But we all do face them. You're always stuck with this fundamental, ultimate dilemma of how do you ethically balance off all these things that you'd like to see happen, that you'd like to contribute to and so forth, and yet be true to yourself morally.
There is no way out of it. It's got to be a very personal thing. It's got to be hard. And it's seldom entirely satisfactory.
Now hopefully, any particular case will be helped by doing your own mental exercises with this kind of framework and picture. And the distinctions I've been trying to make, you'll be able to see more clearly what they are, sort of like coming up to a problem and being able to apply an appropriate coordinate system. You all remember, back when I was teaching freshman calculus here in 1951, that the key thing was to find the right orientation for the coordinate system. And then all the complex equations came out simpler, and you could bang right through the solution in no time at all. Well I'm hoping-- this will never happen for these things-- but I hope it's that sort of thing that these thoughts will do.
But I'd like to end up these thoughts with one last one, again, founded in a key word. And that word is integrity. Let's again go to the dictionary and see what it says for that. "The quality or state of being complete and undivided." The quality or state of being complete and undivided, that's a really good definition.
Now if, when I find myself in one of these ethical dilemmas, if I've gone through all this thing of undoing all the understanding I can, trying to be as much the real me, not just the distorted me that's being buffeted around by this, but who I am really, then all that sort of thing. If I can sit back and say that out of all these different hierarchic, overlapping structures that are what really make me, me, if the ones that are most important to me have their integrity maintained as much as possible, as much as circumstances will warrant, maybe even strengthened in the long run, then even though my own situation may have changed-- I may have been fired. Or I may have really made life so difficult for people up the line or down the line or peers or whatever. I can't really control all that. But as long as I've made, in my own judgment, the things that are most important to me, if those integrities are there, then my own personal integrity is intact. And even though, again, I may be fired, may have to find a new role, I'm ready to go out there again still trying to be make my contribution to society by being a member of organized teamwork that is, in fact, how anything that's really important gets done these days.
So I hope that these thoughts are going to prove useful in the following discussion. I certainly will be interested to hear what Ralph Nader has to say. Because it's sort of like making a sandwich here, you see. We have Sylvia's really powerful experience, real war story. That wasn't fooling at all. That's real war.
And then me, with this, is it peanut butter? I don't know what it is I'm putting in the middle. It depends upon you. That's my whole point. That's the whole point. And so let's see what the other piece of bread turns out to be. I'll be just as interested as you. Thanks.
WHITBECK: Thank you Doug. And now right to introduce our third panelist, I'd like to call on his longtime friend and associate, Nicholas Ashford.
ASHFORD: It is indeed a privilege and a challenge to introduce Ralph Nader. In a short period of time, I will attempt to do that. Lawyer, public citizen, consumer advocate, and a person who has directly affected both private and public policies with regard to science and technology, think about his contributions to the improvement of automobile safety, the safety of pharmaceuticals, the environment, and consumer products. Ralph Nader has talked at this campus three times in 15 years. On his first trip here, I accompanied him, only to arrive at the gate at one of the airlines seven minutes ahead of time. We did get on.
But one time, subsequent to that period, he did not get on. And he was annoyed. And he thought all of you might be annoyed. And so now, if you go to the gate and your reservation is not honored because the airlines summarily overbook, your free flight to Florida earned when you were bumped on your flight to Philadelphia is his to be thanked for.
His good work unfortunately is not finished. Today coming from the airport, joining this evening, I heard on National Public Radio that the EPA has decided that under the Clean Air Act, it does not have to protect asthmatics from sulfur dioxide, even though the Clean Air Act says you must provide the safety of the public with an ample margin of safety, which means all groups. And the congressional history of that act says all sensitive groups, the aged, children. The head of the air office announced today that asthmatics were not a protected class of people and that asthma, after all, was a slight problem that didn't need the protection of government. I hope Ralph is listening tonight.
Ralph is a person who has thought a great deal about the contributions that the engineer and applied scientist can make to society. He is not a newcomer to this subject. In 1967, 21 years ago, in The Journal of Engineering Education, he wrote an article on the professional role of the engineer. There actually are some copies, faded as they are, here tonight. And you can get some more from the student council if they want to Xerox them. It's good reading. And it's current.
Ralph Nader player is a friend who has long inspired me and others to attempt to contribute our technical expertise to the improvement of both the industry and society. His mind is quick. His humor is bittersweet. And his obsession is for a just and fair society. I give you Ralph Nader.
NADER: Thank you very much, Nick, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen. I've got 20 minutes to fulfill all this potential. Well we have a good discussion period coming up that will get into some of your own concerns. Ethics in the context of science and engineering has blossomed as a controversy, as a subject of discussion in the last 25 years, most recently yesterday's congressional hearings chaired by Congressman John Dingell on the falsification of data by scientists in scientific journals.
The full extent of that is not yet apparent. But it's far, far more serious than anybody ever dreamed would be the case. That, of course, raises serious questions on the honesty of knowledge and comes into collision with other powerful motives, the need to publish, the need to be given ten years, the need to be given status, the need to be consulting, et cetera.
And behind those needs, we see even more powerful interests who have a stake in knowledge coming out one way in contrast to another. Again today, the Wall Street Journal lead article on the long struggle against Ford Motor Company on the Ford Motor Company park in reverse, where so many of its cars suddenly decided, without any driver, to go backwards, in one case striking a Boeing aircraft on the tarmac in an Ontario airport and many thousands of dollars of damage. That again pitted people in Ford, who documented the problem if not the explanation for it, and enormous power plays went on inside that company, with some very tragic consequences and then spilled out onto the highway, into the auto safety arena. And a number of citizen groups got involved, as well as a whole matrix of civil litigation and tepid regulatory action.
Now what all this means really is that we have to very seriously think about how knowledge is used, in addition to wanting to produce it. And when we think about how knowledge is used, we get into the real differences in personalities between people who often have equal educational attainments or equal job classifications.
If you look at Sylvia Robins, if you were just on the subway and she was sitting across from you, you would not think that there is probably not one person out of 10,000 in the aerospace and military contract industry that would be able to go over all of the obstacles that she has gone through without shattering one way or another in terms of her own equanimity and determination. This did not come from her experience with Rockwell. Something in her past and the way she was brought up and the experience that she had as a child really was the beginning of it.
And so as I look out over you, I wonder. How many of you in her circumstance would have gone through step after step after step and still had a sense of humor? Now we're talking about a system that we often describe as largely located east of the Urals in the Soviet Union.
We need to become a little less ethnocentric here. We obviously have constitutional protections, so people who dissent are not sent to concentration camps. But that isn't because some institutions wouldn't like to send them to concentration camps.
The former chairman of the board of Sears Roebuck company, probably the most famous chairman of the board, General Robert E Wood, had this to say. "We complain about government and business. We stress the advantages of the free enterprise system. We complain about the totalitarian state. But in our individual organizations, we have created more or less of a totalitarian system in industry, particularly in large industry."
You've got all the ingredients operating for internal authoritarian or totalitarian pressure. There's a tremendous bonding by key members of this organization or corporation not to have public exposure, not to have a broader audience for its misdeeds, not to have law enforcement, not to have adverse publicity, not to have the skeletons in closets yet unopened opened to spill out. Not to mention, the long entrenched desire not to change one's routine.
That would be enough all by itself, just the force that's described as, please don't change our routine. We got a nice cost plus company here, operating with the Pentagon under a facade of capitalism within a structure of corporate socialism, where we are too big to ever be allowed to fail no matter how mismanaged or corrupt or hysterical we may become. And it's really terrific. We don't have mismanagement. We have cost overruns due to unanticipated contingencies, largely provoked by Defense Department policies, which rest, in turn, on changes in the geopolitical military climate worldwide. They can continue across the board globe almost indefinitely before they have to become extraterrestrial in their rationalizations.
Now the first point I want to make is this. The whistle blowing ethic, which is absolutely essential in my judgment for the accountability of institutions, you will not make bureaucracies or corporations accountable without having some series of ways to make bureaucrats or people in corporations accountable. But the whistle blowing drive is something that you grow up with.
Some people can learn it in the turmoil of the episode. And they're forged in that turmoil. But they're not likely to make it through all the stages.
I just recently got a call from a scientist at Los Alamos. And checking him out, it turns out to be quite a brilliant scientist. And he has been working on research which would obviate the need for underground nuclear testing with all its problems in Nevada and elsewhere, and to do it in a much, much simpler and less destructive way. And for a variety of complex reasons, and budgetary shifts, et cetera, he became a man on the outside.
And suddenly things started happening. The walls didn't shrink. But, you know, the usual slow ostracizing and denigration of the status and the work. And now he's out, out of the lab. Now he wants obviously to vindicate himself. He believes he's mistreated. He believes the research that he and others were doing has been shoved aside, because there's a great vested interest in maintaining underground testing in Nevada. Just think of the industry that's involved, the companies, the firms, the consulting operations.
And suddenly you say, well, this isn't really necessary if we are right in this alternative way. Quite apart from whether this ever bears now, there is a vested interest against even trying to find another way because of its destabilizing effect. The auto companies were that way too. Any new technology that meets a need that's being met already by older technology is going to have a very destabilizing effect. Look what cars did for the stagecoach industry. You know, the horse and buggy.
Now what do you do when you get a stack of material very cleanly typed from a scientist like this man? How do you go about evaluating whether he's got a credible case, both procedurally, the way he's treated procedurally, even if he may be mistaken substantively-- does he get due process-- and of course, substantively? It's hard. Not as hard in his case, because he's already attained a certain status, and he's got a lot of publications, et cetera.
But a lot of people who discern ethical problems in industry, and in particular here this topic, science and engineering, are often people with mixed motivations. They may be unhappy in their job for reasons completely apart from the situation of the misdeeds that they observe. And they may have had a personality conflict with a superior, et cetera. They may have not been able to do their job very well, and they're taking it out on their observed misdeeds.
And because of this mix, whistle blowers get stereotyped as largely disgruntled people, people who just couldn't make it, and they had to find an excuse, and so they suddenly became whistle blowers. The protections for whistle blowers have been much increased in recent years. In January, 1971, we had the first conference of whistle blowers. What an assemblage that was.
There were people from FDA, department of defense, nuclear power construction firms. They all came to Washington to answer three questions. Why did you blow the whistle? What happened when you blew the whistle? And would you do it again?
They had everything to lose by blowing the whistle. None of them were promoted. Many of them lost their jobs, went through hell, or were assigned to a rather subordinated role compared to their previous job. One fellow blew the whistle on General Motors Chevrolets, which were going off the assembly line with adequate welding permitting leakage of carbon monoxide on the highway into the compartment, odorless, colorless, tasteless, but deadly. And he was proven right. GM couldn't ignore his right call. So they gave him a $10,000 employee suggestion award and then took him off the quality control inspection line. So he wasn't able to do the work that he was trained to do. He survived in GM because the press took great notice, and the union stood up for him. So he had two bulwarks right there, in addition to a contact that he made on Capitol Hill and our group in Washington.
Let me give you now the framework since 1971 that has been built up. It's spotty. Some of it has failed, although structurally it has potential. But you need to know the framework.
One is that there are about a dozen federal laws now that make it a violation of law for anybody in the regulated industry under these laws to blow the whistle on violations, noncompliance with regulations, standard falsified reporting, for example pesticide applications to the EPA. These laws are safe Drinking Water Act, Air Pollution Control Act, or the Clean Air Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, The Occupational Safety and Health Act, The Toxic Substances Control Act, et cetera. So that's one structure there.
Another structure is that government employees who work in laboratories, as well as regular white collar agencies, have the right to appeal if there is a policy dispute, which we call say, a whistle blowing episode, to the office of the special counsel or to the merit systems protection board. This is as of 1978. We worked on these laws. And we said at last, terrific. We can spend our time on something else.
The record has been dismal. Something like 7,500 complaints have been made to the Office of Special Counsel, and almost nobody has gotten approved. And the other board hasn't been much better. In short, you have a very small probability of getting hurt and getting vindicated through these two boards.
But they're still there. And the checks don't bounce when they pay their employees. The question, as I will note in a moment, is why don't they work?
The third matrix is hotlines. There are a lot of government hotlines now to report waste, fraud, and abuse. And you can call the General Accounting Office hotline. You can call the Defense Department hotline, et cetera. You don't have to give your name. And you give the information. Used to be called snitching. Now it's called a hotline.
That has worked probably better because there's an anonymity covered there. And if they give relatively credible information, or they show where credible information can be obtained on investigation, then they don't have to incur the retaliation. In one survey I saw, 70% of the people who saw a wrongdoing in their place of work declined to do anything about it because they thought it would be futile and in vain. Of the ones who did speak up, 20% incurred retaliation of one kind or another.
So you can see that providing anonymity tends to encourage disclosure of this kind of information. Because they can do it without the fear of retaliation on their job or promotional possibilities and the like.
Another structure of protection is the lawsuit. Have you heard recently this great corporate attack on the lawsuit explosion? Now that they've shut down the regulatory agencies in the Reagan government of the Exxons by the General Motors for the DuPonts, now they're going after our right to use the courts for civil litigation. So they create the panoply of wild horror stories, which were wonderfully exposed for their fraudulent import by 60 Minutes a few weeks ago.
And they also say that there's a huge explosion. And we're such a litigious society. Actually, the per capita use of the civil courts was greater in 1830 than it is today, for obvious reasons. It's very difficult, very expensive now, et cetera. And there's no data to indicate that there is this great explosion. And if there was, I would want to ask, well is this explosion merited? Is it because, suddenly, tens of thousands of asbestos victims have come to the fore after scientists and health specialists and Johns Manville sat on the evidence, along with other asbestos companies for so many years since the 1930s about the effect of asbestos and asbestos induced cancer?
This attack on civil litigation is an attack on one of the few ways left where people can get at these companies without getting on their knees for the next 20 years and waiting for a regulatory agency to do the job, and get at these companies through a legal system and legal representation under a contingent fee, where is, you don't pay your lawyer unless your lawyer wins. And if your lawyer doesn't win, you don't have to pay your lawyer, unlike England and Canada and elsewhere, where these are extremely important economic barriers to entry to the courtroom scene.
Now having done this, the courts are beginning to develop a common law known as the law of malicious discharge. Until recently, employers could discharge people without cause. They didn't have to explain. They just said, leave, unless there was a union management agreement, and there were grievance procedures.
Now there are some 26 states, which have laws saying that there can be a public policy counterattack if you're discharged because you are charging illegality, illegal pollution, et cetera, or a conflict of policy, rather than whether you get to work on time or whether you're competent in doing your job, a charge against the illegality of the company's operations, or what have you. So those statutes, along with the judge made law, the common law, are giving more and more people these rights.
Years ago, a fellow in the Houston office of US Steel found that US Steel was buying pipe that was structurally defective from its supplier. He raised the objection in the US Steel's office in Houston and was reprimanded. He was puzzled because the objection was vis a vis the supplier of US Steel. So he sent his objections to national headquarters in Pittsburgh for US Steel. The investigation subsequently vindicated him but didn't save his job.
He went into the courts on a malicious discharge action. It was that kind of thing. So that structure now is evolving, at least to a point where it made the cover of Business Week a couple years ago by way of illustrating how worker rights are being expanded outside the union framework, trade union framework.
Then there are some 50 companies now, which have their own internal grievance procedures for policy disputes-- 50 large companies. I'm sure some small companies do, but 50 of the larger companies. And they have the ombudsman, and there are problems that Sylvia Robins pointed out with that. That is not necessarily a fatal structural system though. To learn how an ombudsman office could be made to work, I refer you to a Harvard Business Review article around 1967, '68 by Isadore Silver, which involved a proposal for a corporate ombudsman office designed to work.
Another structure is the effectiveness of your professional associations. You will belong, and some of you already belong as students, to American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Society of Automotive Engineers, American Chemical Society, IEEE, and so on. Now they have been very timid. They've been very timid, these associations. They really should stand up for the conscience of their professional members when that conscience collides with corporate dictates or policy, and when they believe that is merited.
They're very timid, because they get a lot of their funding directly and indirectly from corporations. Their standards committees are heavily dominated by people on corporate missions, rather than on their own individual professional missions. So that the break standard committee for the Society of Automotive Engineers, guess what. It's heavily dominated by engineers who are breaking specialists and who work for Ford, Chrysler, GM, et cetera. And they are there on company missions.
And a lot of the equipment used is donated or loaned by the companies. And there's very little leeway for independent, professional judgment. Now the definition of a profession includes the word independence.
What's the difference between a profession and a trade? What's the difference between an engineer and a plumber? Think about that. You may have to think real hard. But there is supposed to be a difference between the two.
A profession is a body of knowledge that has a duty to prevent the problem that it is supposed to be skilled in dealing with or solving. So doctors are supposed to work on preventing disease, even though they make a lot of money dealing with it. And lawyers are supposed to be heading off conflicts, like by drafting artful provisions and contracts that anticipate disagreements with clarity of language, et cetera. And engineers are supposed to be building bridges that do not collapse and give them another bridge to lucratively build. So that's the difference.
And the professional societies, with their canons of ethics, have got a long way to go. From time to time you get what I call spurts of conscience. And it's because you'll get one person in IEEE, or a few years ago, it was one person in the American Chemical Society hierarchy, who would speak out and try to assert the independence. And his tour or her tour of duty is up, and they're gone. The comfortable ones come back in, and everything comes back to normal.
As students, you should really be prime agitators of these professional associations, and not just in their student chapter where they humor you for a few years, you know. But go for the-- you know, as Reagan would say, go for the gold. Raise the issues before the committees, before their annual meetings, their resolutions. Bring evidence to bear. And make these canons come alive. These canons are not just something you put up on your wall of your office to have clients gaze happily on. These canons define important public interest that you as a professional are uniquely positioned to uphold. So you've got to give them content. Who gives them content? The magazine professional engineer, which I think has a new name now. What is it, reporter for another competitor? What is it? You remember, the American engineer in Washington-- it's the NSPE publication. It's changed its name.
What they used to put up, and they probably still do, is hypothetical cases. So they'll take-- someone will write in, or they'll create the question. Basically, I am an engineer working in a chemical company, and I have this ethical dilemma with my company, technology, pollution, whatever. What should I do? And then they would take the relevant canon of ethic and they discuss it. This is what you should do. It's sort of like, can this marriage be saved column.
But it's important to read that. Because they really have built up, shall we say, an ethical history, whereby these canons are discussed in concrete work life situations. Now one of the canons of the National Society of Professional Engineers, which of course is on the low totem pole here at MIT. Professional engineer-- pssh. I mean, you have to get a PE? That's ridiculous. It's like a dermatologist over at the medical school.
The National Society of Professional Engineers has a canon which says, if you in your workplace discover a problem or situation that is hazardous to the public safety, and you can't get it resolved inside your organization, you are professionally bound to report it to an appropriate outside authority. Professionally bound, not, oh be good. You're professionally bound.
Now there are statutes in this country which say that if you observe a felony being committed, and you can do something about it, that is, you can report it and you don't, you can be held in complicity. And some day that's going to be applied in a larger range to the technological and scientific area, not just to someone who watches a bank being robbed and doesn't report it, and, shall we say, easing the situation along, although not part of the bank robbery team. So that's important, the professional societies to look at.
And then there is the ability to make concrete the standards of ethics that, or shall we say, the scientists bill of rights or the engineers bill of rights. And there been articles in the professional literature listing the bills of rights. One was in a magazine. American Engineer in 1960. It was a bill. It was a professional rights, bill a professional rights for employed engineers. And those can become sort of the standards that more and more courts and other bodies of more formal decision making power can apply.
Now let me just give you some quick examples of what you may be coming into as you go into industry, commerce, government. To report or not to report, here are the kinds of situations.
To report or not to report, as an employee, defective vehicles in the process of being marketed to unsuspecting consumers, a vast waste of government funds by private contractors, the industrial dumping of Mercury in waterways, the connection between companies and campaign contributions in illicit ways, a pattern of discrimination by age, race, sex in a labor union or company, mishandling the operation of a worker's pension fund, the sale of putrid or adulterated meats, chemically camouflaged in supermarkets, the use of government power for private, corporate, or industry gain, the knowing non-enforcement of laws being seriously violated, such as pesticide laws, rank corruption in an agency or company, the suppression of serious occupational disease data, and many more. The ones I've just given are actual situations.
As a whistle blower, I'll just end on this note, here are the questions you've got to ask yourself. And you've got to ready. Is my knowledge of the matter complete and accurate? What are the objectionable practices and what public interests do they harm? How far should I and can I go inside the organization with my concern or objection? Will I be violating any rules by contacting outside parties, and if so, is whistle blowing never the less justified?
Will I be violating any laws or ethical duties by not contacting external parties, by not contacting? Once I've decided to act, what's the best way to blow the whistle, anonymously, overtly, by resignation prior to speaking out, or in some other way? What will be likely responses from various sources inside and outside the organization to the whistle blowing action? And what is expected to be achieved by whistle blowing in the particular situation?
That's the kind of sequence you really have to go through. Whistle blowing at its best is nothing more than applications of the golden rule. But now it's much more complex than that.
So in conclusion, let me just suggest that all of these structures I mentioned, which will begin to evolve more and more into the protection of the bringing of conscience to work every day, will make it easier for people to speak out, to speak their conscience, to speak their mind. Maybe someday, if we all work at it, to make speaking out or speaking forthrightly more routine, we won't be described as a society where common candor has to be called courage. Thank you.
PENG: That ends the first part of the discussion. Now we'll begin the discussion phase of the panel discussion. If you have any questions at this point, please start writing down index cards, and we'll have people going down the aisles picking it up in five minutes. So please, start thinking about the questions you might want us to pose to the panelists. Thank you.
WHITBECK: Well let's start with a brief scenario about an engineer who makes a technical judgment, and that conflicts with an action then taken by the engineer's manager. So we don't necessarily have an engineer who hasn't, in Ralph Nader's words, full and complete knowledge, perhaps, but on the best knowledge that he or she has, the manager's decision doesn't make a lot of sense. Now on what issues would or could an engineer speak out, do you think, on these circumstances? Would there be some issues that would be just manager's decisions, or do you think the engineer-- and I'd like to particularly ask Dough Ross this-- do you think the engineer is entitled to carry the dispute above the manager level if there is a dispute with the manager?
ROSS: Well I'm assuming that you're talking about a case where the engineer has some factually things, and the manager seems to be ignoring that to the detriment of something. And certainly, one aspect that I didn't get into, be able to cover in the general marks, are these things of channels of communication. How does information flow in an organization?
And if you will, because of that shared accountability, it always is legitimate for somebody, at one point of the organization, to go around his manager to the manager's manager, and continuing. It's almost like a constitutional right, I mean, if you understand the way that I understand this delegation structure.
Because again, the only way that the top accountable person can understand is if they're made aware. And if it's blocked off, then that doesn't go. So any corporation that has a decent policy and procedures type of manuals and so forth to go by should have this known to the people in the organization. And so it seems to me to give a brief answer, yes indeed.
If the engineer really has the impression that the important data is being overlooked by his boss for one reason or another, it is perfectly OK to take it up the line. You do this after, I'm assuming, also that the engineer and the manager already have tried to resolve the thing between them, he's argued forcefully for it and all that sort of them.
WHITBECK: Sylvia, how far do you think you would take a given problem? I mean, does it matter the seriousness of the problem? What do you think would determine how far up an organization you would take a problem?
ROBINS: To expand on what he was saying, I believe many times the engineers have a better knowledge sometimes than the managers do. And sometimes you have to sit down with the manager and go over it. They may or may not understand the situation. In some of the cases that I have been involved, the situations, we are looking at what we call, critical items in the space program, which could cause loss of life and vehicle. And if we don't have safety and quality checks, that could be very disastrous.
I feel that engineers, if they can't go through the proper channels, that they should go up the chain of command. I think they should go to the next line in the corporation and gather the data, have a good basis of fact for the data. And if that is not successful, then you go to the next level, until you get someone that will listen and can help resolve the issue.
WHITBECK: Well, there is this growing consensus that as Ralph was pointing out, that engineers have not only a right but an obligation to raise the matter when it's a health and safety matter. But are there some other matters where the engineer doesn't have that obligation? Let's suppose there's a question about proprietary knowledge or a question about appropriate use of the company's resources or something of that sort. Is the engineer supposed to raise every issue all the way to the top? I'd be interested in hearing from any of the panel members.
ROBINS: Well I think it's also one of moral conscience. Can you live with yourself if you know of something that's going on? You have to define that for yourself. You have to weigh the problems, the advantages, and the disadvantages. And you have to have your data. You have to have documentation. But can you live with that moral conscience? You do have to consider those issues.
NADER: For example, you can't pigeonhole scientists and engineers just to the areas of, quote, their narrow expertise. Let's put it this way. Let's say a chemist is working on chemical and biological warfare on contract in her company or his company on contract with the Pentagon. And the CBW works very well. There's no technical question that it's lacking in lethality.
But the scientist or engineer objects to the larger moral question. And I don't think it's appropriate to say, well that's not your area. That's the management's area. I think what you're saying is there are certain bottom lines, if you're a human being, period, you should have that right. It's sort of like a free speech right.
But I think one of the problems is the more pressure there is put on companies, let's say, not to cover up, the more the potential penalties of cover-ups and selling defective products and wasting government contract money, the more likelihood they're going to be punished or prosecuted or exposed, the more they're going to have an incentive to give people in their company channels of communication. Because then it becomes rationalized as good management. You've got to let these people give you a feed back in your own company to alert you to problems. Because if they don't alert you to problems, the prosecutor is going to really make a mess of your company and its reputation over the next few years or you may be debarred from government contracts.
So I think the external pressure tends to improve the ability of companies to provide these channels. And one of the reasons why defense contractors are often the most cruel in this area is because first of all, they're largely a monopoly in their weapons system. Two, they got one customer with which they've developed very close contacts, the Pentagon. Three, it's like a cost plus company. You know it's just unbelievable, the golden handshake in Washington. And fourth, they've got this national security blanket that they wrap around themselves, which goes all the way from flag waving to you can't speak out. This is sensitive information, and you got to close up.
Under that kind of rubric, and under the inability of people to sue government contractors, say for defective weapons. They sort of step in the place of the government's sovereign immunity to a large extent.
WHITBECK: Well, let's not get too far into government--
NADER: Right but you see what happens is they feel free to close off their internal ethical expressions of their employees and to punish them when they are expressed. So it is very much a function of outside environment in terms of internal channels that can be opened. I've always favored the establishment of an engineer's committee in companies, a kind of ad hoc committee.
So if one engineer has a problem, that one engineer is not going to be viewed as kind of a nut and marginalized. That engineer can then procedurally, as a matter of right, present the complaint or the observation to the engineers committee. And the committee has to render a judgment in writing. Now that's just procedural. And I think that would tend to give a broader base in the corporation. So it wouldn't just be viewed as some aberrant individual.
ROSS: Let me mention one thing, if I may, just in that context. Because I feel that Ralph has just raised a point where with such a committee, the engineer would have one of these extraordinary channels that's definitely available and known. Again, I'm interested in trying to make sure that the remarks that I have here tonight are ones that you can take away and apply yourselves.
Because, you see in fact, some of the comments that Ralph was making about the defense industry-- SofTek most of our work is with the government. And we're a defense industry thing. But we certainly don't have the kinds of problems he's talking about, because we're small, and we have to work hard.
But let me just say this one thing about-- give a sort of a manager's views, because many of you will end up being managers level at large or small companies. One thing that I've found is in setting up organizational committee structures and meetings even in local government, you should always have, if a committee is going to have things that have real power, and you have a regular set of meetings of those committees, such as a board of selectmen in the town, for example, you should always have, as a regular thing every time, an executive session, where people are blocked out. Even if you have nothing to do in an executive session, have that part of your meeting.
That way, when some hot button is pushed, when you do have a major thing you have that thing without tipping your hand that there is something hot to be worried about. And management can state while it's trying to solve the problem before giving directives or even saying things to people to alert them to what is needed. I'm always assuming that we're in good organizations. I prefer them.
So in this way, by having the designing of committee so that it always has an executive session, you can serve a very important function of buffering until you're prepared to make a controlled approach to a problem.
WHITBECK: Sylvia, we've heard Ralph's and Doug's recommendations about a structure for handling these things. You criticize the ombudsman structure, the way it worked at Rockwell. I wasn't clear about whether you thought that that structure is in general no good or it just didn't work because corruption went so high in that particular company. What structures would you favor?
ROBINS: Well I can't make a generic statement that all ombudsmen or hotlines are what we call SDC Fair Hotline are corrupt. I think ethics committees are very good in some companies. I think it depends on the management and it's run. It just so happens that the Rockwell facility in Houston is not run ethically.
And I think in many cases-- in fact, I was just reading in a magazine last week, there were a number of companies there are instituting ethics committees, hotlines, places where engineers can go and talk, like Ralph was talking, have a place for them to sit and all decide. And I was very impressed. I think that Xerox was one. And there were several others.
And there were even some defense contractors in there. So I was a little bit surprised at that. Back to something what Ralph was saying. If they can get to the problem, listen to the concerns of the engineers, our particular president, after we went public, made the comment, I never dreamed it would come to this. And yet just seven months prior to that, I had sat in his office and tried to get him to listen to the problems. And he refused.
So I think there are just certain ways management can institute certain policies and procedures. And I think the engineers have to know that they have that place to go. Otherwise, we do have management by intimidation. There are many engineers-- I have 180 engineers that have come to me just in the last six months begging me for help. Where can I go, I've just been asked to do something unethical? I have to forge a document. And all I can do is give them advice. Because we don't have a corporate structure where they can go and get help.
WHITBECK: This first question is what does the young engineer do upon reaching a first job and encountering an ethical dilemma? Perhaps, let's take it first with this kind of clear abuse. But then let's also consider an ethical dilemma that's of the more garden variety, where it's just you really have two hard choices. It's not clear who's doing wrong.
What do you do? You're a new engineer. You've been told it's supposed to all work a certain way. And suddenly you're faced with an abuse on the job. Where do you start? Perhaps, Doug, you'd like to--
ROSS: I thought you were waiting for Sylvia. Well I think that especially if it's the first job that this young engineer has taken, that in itself is going to add a layer to the dilemma. Because they haven't seen it work in practice. They may have instructed or understood things they thought. But they have really felt it yet.
And there's really no substitute for communication with your peers, as well as in other places in the organization. And I guess the key thing is to do your best to understand this thing that you may be seeing only a portion of the problem. Maybe it's not as black as you think. I very seldom see things actually in blacks and whites.
It's not that I'm seeing through rose colored glasses. It's just that I see more components that make them fuzzy. And I can't really figure out what they are. And so I guess the key thing is I would hope that this new job would be one that was where the confidence level that it was the place to be was still high, and that the ethical problem wasn't so major that you all of a sudden just knew it wasn't. And that you would be able to learn from the experience by exercising things that were not strictly to do with your job but were with working out problems with people.
Again, I'm mainly an optimist. But I also know how to handle things when they get tough. So that's what I would say.
NADER: There are also a lot of just personal techniques that you develop. For example, if you're going to complain to someone above you, it's good to try to figure out who above you is more likely to be receptive. One person may have a different personality than another.
The second is, when you find something's wrong, it's good to talk about it horizontally to your peers. So a lot of people know about it. And then you go to the superior, and you say, a lot of people know about this. So they don't single you out and figure that if they stifle you, then they sort of stifled the whole thing. And if anyone knows after that, then they know who told them. Because you've revealed yourself as the source of the information.
Another approach is just to be known as a person with a lot of contacts. You see if you want to protect your base in a company hierarchy, and people know that you socialize with a lot of people in the press, and you have been known to hobnob with some elected officials and politicians, and so on, when you go to the foreman or the manager, you're going to go with a penumbra around you that's going to say, don't tread on me too easily. And then another approach is let's say you've got a specific complaint that you're worried about in what you see in your workplace. The first question to the superior should be, do you think that a good feedback mechanism is the best way to produce a strong, profitable company?
They'll say, of course. And do you think that people beneath you should bottle up their insights and discoveries and keep it all to themselves? No, of course not. Well, I'm glad that you're going to be receptive to what I'm about to tell you.
A lot of it is that kind of simple psychology that lets you go that way. Because the one thing that when they see someone with a serious expose about to be disclosed, they're going to try to make you what you're not. They're going to try to make you disgruntled, perhaps incipient psychiatric syndromes, et cetera. And sometimes, very bad, they'll try to smear you outright.
You don't want to do that. You don't ever want to even get near that kind of vulnerability. That's why you've got to come in with a penumbra and a psychological strategy like that.
WHITBECK: What would you advise the young engineer who hasn't got a handy penumbra available?
ROBINS: I was just thinking about perhaps before you even anticipate going to work for someone you need to talk to some of the employees. Talk to some of the engineers. Find out the problems in the company. Is it a healthy company?
Ask them about their ethics committee, the ombudsman. Let them know that you know what are their policy and procedure directives. How are they carried out?
I think it's very important that the engineers know the health of the company before they go into work. I told some engineers a couple of weeks ago at the University of Wisconsin, one of the barometers deciding whether or not a company is rather healthy is if the company shows up in the paper on a regular basis being indicted for fraud or corruption or waste or whatever. I don't think that is a company where I would send my resume. Six days later, Rockwell showed up in the Wall Street Journal with about 15 columns on how they had defrauded $14 billion. And I must have received 40 calls from some of the engineers who said, yeah, that's exactly what you were talking about.
And check out the management. Find out where they came from. Talk to the engineers. Talk to the people that work there. You might want to do that before you go to work for a company.
NADER: On that point, embellishing that point, the students can have a great effect as students by presenting proper questionnaires to all corporations who recruit here at MIT. And you basically ask them all the questions. What are the channels of communication? Do you have due process for these grievances? How many layers of management do you have in your company? The more layers of management, the more problems arise. And this sort of thing.
What kind of open door policy do you have? Do you have an internal company award for courageous whistle blowers? Et cetera. You ask them these kinds of questions, and then it spreads to other engineering schools. Now the law students did this years ago with law firms. They'd say, how much time do you allow us in your law firm to do pro bono work for poor people or others who need legal services free? And it had a tremendous effect on the law firms. They began to compete with one another in terms of their responses to the university placement office and the students' questionnaire, which of course were all made public and discussed. So that's something that you can generate with very little fear of retaliation, and help out the situation later on.
ROBINS: That's another thing I'd like to share with some of the students. When I went to Rockwell and Unisys's human resources, and I said, you just violated policy and procedure 50400200, they said, what is that? And I said, that's the company policy and procedure to directed for dismissing employees. And they didn't even know what it was. And I said, I'd like to file a grievance. And I need form 005003270 whatever. And they said, oh. We don't have any of those.
And I said, well, let's go look somewhere else. And we tried another avenue. And they said, we'll have to order some. And I said, well. We have 750 employees here. I think you need to order about 750 grievance forms.
Many of the people don't know where they can go, what they can do, and who they can go to. And I think that's really important.
WHITBECK: Well let's turn to a greyer area. What happens if, say, two engineers have significantly different opinions on some technical matter, two coworkers? And there's a judgment call to be made. Does the company investigate the matter further? Let's suppose that on this technical reference, there turns a matter that will be of great significance for the company in terms of its ability to get a contract or to meet a deadline or something of that sort. What kind of a procedure is a reasonable procedure for handling that where there really is some genuine difference of opinion?
There's room for a genuine difference of opinion here. But the question is whether you're going to balance, what sort of trade off you're going to make between a potential, let's suppose it's a health or safety risk. One person thinks it's going to be a large health or safety risk. The other thinks it's going to be a small risk. There's room for disagreement. Then what do you do? And how would you resolve that kind of a dilemma?
It's not clear that anybody's being bad or doing the wrong thing. But it's a real disagreement, and it would be really hard to sleep at night if you believe it's going to be a high health and safety risk.
ROBINS: I think probably the engineer that has the most data, the most valid data, the one that can see what the constraints might be and what the risk factors are, and don't ever discuss a problem unless you have a solution to it. And I think it's a matter of who has the most authentic data. And perhaps if you have a manager or you have upper management that is willing to listen to both sides, and they do need to investigate that. I think that's where the decision would be made.
ROSS: I think this is an example of a place where it depends a great deal upon the level of management that's just above these two engineers. What kind of a manager is that person. It's a risk, for example, for that manager to be primarily a technical person, very strong in his own technical views. Because he may feel that he can be Solomon and judge it right off the bat, and then he'll solve the personnel problem of making both employees gruntled again. We don't want disgruntled employees.
So that's really a danger. But the other danger is for the manager to be so far from the technical area that he can't really make a judgment. And I really don't know what-- I would need more data on this case itself. We'd need to elaborate, which is, we can't do here. But it also is a place where the antennae of the manager becomes important.
He has to be able to judge whether it's really important to hold things up, whether to bring in some other part of the organization that has more expertise, where the amount of study, bring in a consultant or resolve it in a technical way. Those are really things that affect what the manager's side of it would look like, I think.
NADER: This came up in the Corvair investigation. Inside General Motors there was serious disagreement about the Corvair suspension system that was being proposed. On the one hand, there were the most prominent vehicle dynamics people in GM, like Paul [INAUDIBLE] and others, who thought they shouldn't go with the suspension system in the first year of the Corvair. And on the other hand, there were the production engineers and the cost analysts who wanted to get going and produce the car. And they said, well w can go with this kind of suspension system.
Now this wasn't just a disagreement between two engineers or two groups of engineers. Because the chief of Chevrolet at that time sided with the production engineers and the cost analysts. Those were the factors that drove the decision.
And the actual technical engineering conflict was never resolved. It was resolved by the imperatives of production engineering cost analysis. And to answer your question, which is the most difficult one, is how do you resolve this? How does a company resolve it first? And second, how does society resolve it when it spills out on the highway?
It's easier to talk about how a society can resolve it with recalls and regulation, et cetera. But how does a company resolve it, especially when the head of Chevrolet was an engineer who had a number of patents in his own right at the time?
ROSS: Like I say, that's the most dangerous.
NADER: Yeah. Now, just from a bird's eye view I would have not a vertical appeal. I would have an appeal on the side to a say, engineering board that had nothing to do with production, time scheduling, anything. It was only there to render the engineering judgment.
WHITBECK: These would be engineers who are employed in other positions and they're gathered together to do this.
NADER: Who don't have a stake. It might be engineers outside the division completely, who would not have a stake, who would not lose face or lose status or lose whatever in the--
ROSS: It's called red teaming. It occurs even in things that are not strictly technical, things that are marketing and working on bills and proposals. Do we have our case well presented? Have we really thought it through? You bring in a red team from some other place within your organization, you see, to act as this check and balance and to come up with things for the ones that are working on it to actually go proceed further. And that's the way you can increase the quality level.
At the same time, in such activities, you do a great deal of spreading this corporate culture, which is really where both the good and the bad sides of these ethical questions come into play. And again, I prefer to think of the style of an organization and the way people work together, spreading good things. And I look upon these great huge organizations that are so big that nobody knows what's going on, and they develop these aberrations that are so disastrous. I'm hoping that most of the people are working in the other ones.
NADER: I might add, by the way, just to give this a broader framework, there are hundreds of major companies in the last 40, 50 years, which have disappeared or tumbled or declined because their corporate governance does not encourage and evaluate technical candor and ethical candor. I mean, we're talking adult survivals of companies.
Look at the banks. Look at the banks that are failing through mismanagement and corruption and speculation and self dealing and conflicts of interest. They've very successfully kept people inside the banks quiet. And where are they now? So it's important to talk about the macroeconomic effects of this.
WHITBECK: We have another question about grey areas. This one, really, this is again about the defense industry. The questioner seems to find a great many similar problems, but not usually involving life and death questions but other forms of corruption.
The question is, what do you do about them? Now I suppose there are some kinds of abuses. If a coworker is taking home all the colored pens, that one doesn't raise those at the same level of seriousness. But now where does one draw the line between the health and safety questions and the [INAUDIBLE]?
ROBINS: If they're carting out a PC, then you might want to talk about it. I think it's a matter of if you are violating company policy and procedure, if you are possibly compromising the product integrity, whatever that product is, I think, again, you have to rationalize those feelings yourself. You have to know how you would deal with those.
It's not necessarily, like we said, the large kickbacks, the embezzler. It's some of the people that are in the trenches, and they are getting by with a few things. And I think whistle blowers have a bad connotation simply because a lot of people think of them as stoolies or snitches or whatever. And that's not necessarily true.
If you know that your company's product line is being degraded, or if you know that what you cannot live up to contractually within a requirement-- in the space program, we could not deliver products to all of the site facilities, because we had no bonded warehouse. We had no way to store classified data. We had no secure couriers. We had no way to do this.
And yet NASA had come to me and said, you bought the farm. You have to do it. It's in the statement of work. You bid it in the proposal. You have to do it.
Well I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Unisys is saying no. Rockwell is saying yes. And NASA says, you bought the farm. It's your problem.
It depends on, I think, each issue. And it may not be a life or death. That was not necessarily a life or death situation. That could have been resolved. But at the same time, if you don't have this independent assessment, there's another thing that I think that we've touched on, and that is the engineer will have to know what their superior is thinking in terms of, there is a bureaucratic tie-in with many managers and upper management. And you generally know how they are going to respond before you go in there. And I think that's very important for all the engineers to know that.
ROSS: I guess I'd sort of like to address that one in the way that an upper manager, maybe not the CEO himself, but somebody fairly high up, and so it's a question if it's one of these dilemma things, it's only gotten to him because it hasn't been resolved at the lower levels more than the one below him, for example. And at that level, because this manager is always working either through puppet strings or pushing on noodles-- there are two ways that is looked at-- the first thing is to be open and receptive to the person who's making the presentation, the engineer who has a grievance and wants to have it understood.
And that's just the other side of this same psychological side that you were talking about Ralph. And make sure that the person is comfortable in having their say. Then before assuming that everything is just that way and jumping in and trying to solve it, with a little instruction, this manager can explain that he's got more things to worry about. And this certainly fits in there. Can we go through and see how well did his system that was supposed to handle this, how will his network, before he even gets into following through and taking sides and all that sort of thing? In other words, without going into great detail on it, the way that the manager handles it is an educational process itself for that individual, which will spread back through the organization. It won't be kept secret. There's tremendous grape vines in companies that make these feeling things known.
And so I think the key thing is that if it's gotten up to this level to use it as this two-way communication. The person has come up the channel. Make sure that there's some education, confidence building, some commitment. Yes, I will, now that I understand this really is true, we'll fix the system itself this way. And in this particular case, this portion, you're exactly right. And here's how I'm going to take some steps to make sure that that gets addressed. That type of response will strengthen the organization in the face of these difficult things that arise just from day to day operations.
WHITBECK: We've touched on the question of the training of different managers, the different trainings possible for managers. Well this questioner is interested in asking both Doug and Ralph, do you find extreme differences in managers who are trained to be managers, and engineers who become managers? And what are the strengths and weaknesses of each in their work?
NADER: I wish I could generalize on that. They're all mixed. For example, when John Nevin took the helm at Firestone a few years ago, one of his first trips was to Washington. He wanted to talk to us about the Firestone 500 radio, which had already almost wrecked the company. And that's why he actually was asked to take over.
And he was a manager. He wasn't an engineer. But what he wanted, he wanted to open up all kinds of channels of advice and communications to see what he had to do with all those millions of radial tires that were still out there, to recover the reputation, the credibility of the company.
I mean I hate to generalize on this. But at least my experience is engineers are more rigid as they go up the managerial hierarchy. I'm not going to speculate why. That's from my limited experience.
ROSS: Again I'm reluctant to accept such a generalized question head on. I guess what I would do is diffuse it still further by making a generalization about it. Namely, whether the path is through engineering or through management, like Sloan School type approach, or through the combined even, I have always felt that the importance of what is now called the humanities, the liberal arts background, the broadening of the cultural base, the awareness of the bigger picture, if that is combined with the scientific and mathematical underpinnings that go with an engineering, then you sort of have the best total mix of ingredients to work with.
Hopefully looking at the broader liberal arts, humanities type, things with political systems and history and literature and so forth, will overcome the over simplification that makes engineers feel that they can do anything. Or programmers are perennially optimistic. Computer programmers, they always think it's going to work.
NADER: Except for Star Wars.
ROSS: Well that's true only. They're learning too you see.
NADER: They're finally drawing the line.
ROSS: But in the old days, and still for many of things, a programmer reinvents the wheel all the time. They start out deciding it should be square, and they spend their time knocking the corners off, and call it debugging you see. So anyhow, I just think that this thing of not having the naive, unprepared for the real modern world liberal arts trained person, who doesn't understand science or technology at all. But on the other hand, not being so much entirely business, entirely engineering, entirely science, and so forth, that you can't see the bigger picture.
That's the way I would generalize it, and totally confuse the question, and say that it seems to me that the best of all worlds is where you have a mix of all of them. And you've found what path you think is best for you and be willing to shift career paths as you go. Find the best way to make your contribution. Take advantage of your opportunities, which will show you where you can make a contribution.
NADER: You're right. I think that the reason why I found engineers in managerial roles very rigid is because they've had a very narrow technical frame of reference, number one. Number two, they're very defensive about anything in engineering that's criticized by non engineers.
ROSS: You just don't understand.
NADER: Yeah. First of all, almost every profession has been reformed by agitators from the outside, medicine, law. We don't have any more, we don't have enough let's say anymore people like Einstein, Percy Bridgman and Peter Medawar. These were first by scientists. But their philosophic depth was incredible.
I mean just look at Einstein's observations on going to the village green, because we were in a nuclear age now. I mean many of these observations, the best people in political philosophy have not put forth. And Medawar's books are classic literary expressions. You should read them. And Percy Bridgman is in a class by himself. Where are they today? Is the specialization so extreme that frames of reference are getting narrower and narrower as the consequences of science and technology become more and more global and generational in scope?
ROBINS: I was just going to say that there's been a lot written about corporate cultures recently. And I think the chief executive officer can generally set the standard for the sensitivity to ethical decision making. And if you have corporate management, especially a CEO, and it is transferred down the ranks, then you are going to have a good organization. Because they can affect the conduct. If they don't change their attitudes, they can have the power to affect conduct, if they have a genuine interest in sensitivity to ethical issues.
NADER: So much of that depends on the person at the top. We just finished a book about a year ago called The Big Boys, Power and Position in American Industry where we did profiles on nine major chief executives and interviewed six of them in depth. And the conclusion, one of the main conclusions we came to was, yes, no matter how big these organizations are, the person at the top can have a tremendous effect, not only in the way the organization is vectored but all the way down the line. Just unbelievable radiation of one attitude compared to another.
WHITBECK: Well I think it's time for us to--
ROSS: Could I just add just one brief thought?
WHITBECK: I'd like to ask each of you for your concluding thoughts.
ROSS: Good, I'll save it for that.
WHITBECK: Would you like to start Doug?
ROSS: OK, I'll take my last shot now. But it actually fits very nicely in this context. Because quite a number of years ago now, I was doing some consulting through SofTek for International Telephone Telegraph at the time that Harold Geneen was running. It was a big conglomerate and so forth.
And I was up in Pennsylvania or someplace where we had a meeting of 20 presidents of IT&T companies, sub-companies. The whole meeting was nothing but presidents. And so I said to them, gentlemen you've heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. And I said, well because of not of you as an individual, but who you are through your office, and how this organization structure works and so forth, for you, just your body English, is worth a thousand pictures. Just how you deport yourself, these very things that make the cultural setting and so forth, has a million to one factor.
And so we then proceeded you see in that context to get into some of these very areas about do you listen to the people below you that you depend on? You have no direct control over anything. The only people you directly control are your administrative assistant executive secretary and maybe three or four people that if you're a good manager only three or four people will directly report to you. And from there on, zingo. You're at the mercy of their delegations too.
And so you must foster all this communication that goes on. But it works. Because of the aura. You were mentioning these auras too. Because of the things that go with the office. The office makes the man type of thing that you've heard too.
Because of that very thing, once you get the feel of it-- it never feels really comfortable. Sometimes it feels great. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's terrible. It's a real burden. But that's what being CEO is. And so that body English, the deportment, as well as, more importantly than the specific things that you do is what really makes the thing work.
And so I'd like to think that this is a closing remark on my part does bring back in that last word I had in my original presentation of integrity. I am a perennial optimist. I assume that things are there to be good. They're intended to work well. The world is so complicated, and there are so many of us. We bump into each other so often. And when we use up our resources. We run out of things, and all that sort of thing. It has to be complicated.
But we also are getting better at our problem solving. And so if this think of the integrity of the whole system as it grunts and strains and goes through these evolutionary changes, if that can happen at the same time that the people in it find satisfaction, find the value in the contributions they are able to make, then just as the news stories nowadays cover all of the murders and rapes and all the ugly things, maybe we can switch over to not having that be the nightly news, but having good stories. And maybe we can have some of the same in our business context as well.
WHITBECK: Ralph, would you like to give us your final thought?
NADER: Let me just read you the code of ethics for US government employees. Here it is. One sentence, notice. "Put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to the country, above loyalty to persons, party, or government department." That means White House, Justice Department, Department of Defense. That's the one ethical code that Reagan's people have never mentioned.
And that's something to really ponder. What they're basically saying is the highest authority is not your superior, not your department, but the moral principles. Secondly, if you want to do more reading on this, the book by David Ewing, Harvard Business Review editor, is very good on this, basically an employee bill of rights on public policy disagreements. And your library has this book, which is a book on our conference in 1971, called Whistleblowing.
And in the January issue of Technology Review, there's a pretty up to date article on whistle blowing rights and the need for more safeguards. You can have a lot of safeguards, but if you can't find yourself a lawyer who will do the job, and the Government Accountability project in Washington, GAP, has really been doing terrific work representing whistle blowers from the nuclear industry and other industries around the country.
Finally, there's one pattern we didn't discuss today, which is, what about the silent whistle blower? You go to a syndicated columnist Jack Anderson's office in Washington, and you'll see a lot of documents in plain envelopes, which come from whistle blowers. But they don't identify themselves, because they don't want to go through the hassle, the retaliation, the ostracism, whatever. They just send it in.
The infamous Dita Beard memo of the IT&T scandal in the early 70s, which indicated that IT&T was going to give money to the Nixon administration election in return for maybe a favorable decision on an anti-trust matter, was sent to Jack Anderson, or to Drew Pearson actually, no actually it was Jack Anderson at the time, in a plain envelope. Nobody ever knew who sent that memo, and yet it led to congressional hearings and uproars and proposals for change and helped limit some of the excesses of the Nixon administration. Now that's something that you're going to have to figure out yourself.
But let it be known that a tremendous amount of good has been done by both visible and invisible whistle blowers. And most of the scandals of corruption and abuses and defective products were originally disclosed by these silent patriots, as Ernie Fitzgerald in the Defense Department calls them.
ROBINS: In the interest of time, I left out a portion of my speech. But I would like to read it if that's all right. One of the things I wanted to stress is that a separate and morally superior source of ethical obligation is your personal conscience.
Persons judge themselves in terms of the ethical standards embedded in their conscience. Integrity, self esteem, and self respect depend upon a person's ability and courage to live up to those standards. Ethical decision making is simply the result of a reasoning process of honesty, integrity, promise keeping and trustworthiness, fairness, fidelity, professional judgment, confidentiality, concern for others, respect for others, law abiding, commitment to excellence, leadership reputation and morale, and accountability.
WHITBECK: Thank you very much.