Why Don’t Whistleblowers Find More Support in Society?
By J. Kirk Wiebe
After pondering this question for a number of years, I’ve come to the unavoidable conclusion that we no longer have a society that has been rooted deeply in principles of conscience and morality. Consider the following. Back in 1940, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number has increased to a range of 75%-98%. (Source: education-portal.com ). 74% of high school students admitted to cheating on an exam at some point during the past year to get ahead (Source: josephsoninstitute.org).
The corollary to these troublesome facts is that cheating is not limited to students anymore. It is pervasive throughout all levels of society. As a society, we have become overly tolerant of deviance and extremely reticent to judge when in fact without judgment in matters of what is right and what is wrong, choices cannot be made effectively. Choices that might cost a company a significant percentage of profit, or choices that might cost lives where, for example, the cheating involves plant safety measures, the testing of a new vaccine, or Dept. of Defense programs affecting the security of the United States.
Hence the few who do carry strong moral compasses with them, faithfully executing ethics policy and holding deeply within themselves the letter of the law, are by definition an extremely rare and diminishing group. When they do step forward to report wrong-doing, they are often ignored and abandoned for all the reasons cited above. This is a cold reality that does not bode well for our future as a nation.
According to research, a lack of ethical behavior worsens employee fraud.
- Costs firms $600 billion a year, or six percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (Source: Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 2002 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse).
- Costs employers 20 percent of every dollar earned, according to U.S. workers surveyed in 2002 by Ernst & Young. (The CPA Letter, October 2002).
- Twice as common as consumer fraud (e.g., credit card fraud, identity theft). (KPMG Fraud Survey 2003).
- Fraud has grown by 50 percent since 1996. (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 2002 Report to the Nation on Occupational Fraud and Abuse) Since 1998, payroll fraud has quadrupled, theft of company assets has more than doubled and expense-account abuse nearly tripled. (KPMG Fraud Survey 2003).
- Fraud would drop if managers were better role models and leaders, according to 58 percent of workers surveyed. (Ernst & Young, in The CPA Letter, October 2002).
How do we repair this problem? It will require a concerted effort through the family, through churches, synagogues, schools from pre-K through college, and the work place, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, any means that can be used effectively to state expected norms of behavior regarding honesty and forthrightness – and the obligation one has to report wrongdoing.
Most important is that we find ways to reward and recognize those who make a difference through honest, ethical behavior, and especially celebrate those who take personal risks to uncover and shed light on wrongdoing. A suggestion is that the next President appoint a panel of distinguished ethicists and business leaders whose companies have model ethics programs to formulate a plan and oversee the initiative. It is essential that whistleblowers be part of the dialogue and panel because they can impart wisdom, knowledge and experience of what worked and what failed, like no others.
It will take years before the fruits of these labors will be realized in any large measure, but it is vital that this work begin and that it begins now. It will not be an easy task and it will take time. But the results will change the course of this nation and in doing so, we will once again lead in the field of ethical conduct.
J. Kirk Wiebe
Whistleblower and former Senior Intelligence Analyst with the National Security Agency (NSA).
CEO Note: While employed Mr. Wiebe received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, NSA’s second highest distinction. This article by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) does a good job of explaining the extreme peril Mr. Wiebe and other intelligence whistleblowers endured after they honored their ethical duties as federal employees, reporting fraud, waste and abuse of authority.
I agree with Mr. Wiebe’s observations that a long pattern of decline in ethical conduct in both business and government endangers our way of living. As a nation we must protect and reward those who willingly step forward to prevent harm to others. When the people are not grateful to those who ring the corruption bell, we’ve accepted that greed extinguished good.