By J. Kirk Wiebe (Reprinted with permission from whistlewatch.org, the Brown Center for Public Policy)
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: study.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.
Whistleblower and former Senior Intelligence Analyst with the National Security Agency (NSA).
[Ed. Note. Readers of this blog already know we are huge supporters of whistlewatch.org, one of the few hands on advocacy groups dedicated to assisting whistleblowers and educating the public. Kirk Wiebe wrote the above post for the organization. It is reprinted with permission.
Although much of our practice comes from representing whistleblowers, little is written about the daunting challenges whistleblowers sometimes face. The cases we accept involve federal and state false claims act violations, SEC whistleblowers and IRS whistleblowers – in each of these cases, the whistleblower is entitled to a cash award. For many folks, however, there is no “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. The only reward is knowing they have done the right thing.
If you wish more information generally, visit whistlewatch.org. Think you have a potential case? Give us a call. For more information about false claims, IRS and SEC cases, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at 414-704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are kept in strict confidence and protected by the attorney – client privilege.]