Employees are entitled to certain expectations in their work place environment. Those expectations include a well managed organization which is free from corruption. Being part of a well managed and respected organization may bring a sense of pride to that organization’s members. Likewise, the citizens that organization serves are entitled to expect a public service organization known for integrity, accountability and freedom from corruption.
No matter how hard an employer tries to hire good, upstanding, ethical employees, inevitably an employee will make a poor decision that impacts not only himself but the entire organization.
However, not all incidents of misconduct are equal. Some are willful and premeditated while others are simply the result of bad judgment. Some offenders have remorse while others do not. Some misconduct is a one-time individual act. In other instances the misconduct may represent a pattern of behavior committed by an individual or in collusion with others. Minor misconduct such as mistakes, lapses of judgment, or policy violations may be disregarded, but willful criminal violations should never be ignored.
Most public service employees are proud of the service they provide to their community and country. These are the good men and women who want to serve, help, protect and do the best job they can. However, these good employees sometimes encounter members of their organization who do not share the commitment to provide caring community focused service and whose misconduct places good employees in a difficult position. They are forced to make a decision about how to respond to their co-workers behavior.
Anyone who is fed up with corruption, misconduct, or looking the other way can supply information that allows them to follow their conscience and address the issues. An employee who makes a decision to follow their conscience becomes an asset to their organization by reporting wrongdoing. That employee becomes an asset who can have a positive and lasting effect on their organization by reporting dishonest or unethical conduct.
For most people, however, reporting wrongdoing is a painful experience whether the information is passed to a supervisor, an office which investigates employee misconduct, or an outside law enforcement agency. A consequence of reporting wrongdoing may be that the reporting employee is labeled a troublemaker and resented by management and snubbed by follow employees. Anonymous reporting of wrongdoing should always be considered and may offer protection to the employee who has decided to do the right thing.
Many bold determined employees have taken that honest but difficult step. They include Frank Serpico, arguably the most famous whistleblower, who reported pervasive corruption within the NYPD and Coleen Rowley, the FBI Special Agent who alerted Congress of the failings of the Bureau regarding the September 11th terror attacks. Also, the famous “Deep Throat”, W. Mark Felt, who was second in command of the FBI at the time of his cooperation with the Washington Post’s “Watergate” investigation that resulted in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
These three individuals shared a commitment to do the right thing despite the consequences and controversy caused by their actions. Serpico and Rowley both reported corruption overtly and both were denounced by their department’s leadership and follow officers. Felt believed he would be fired or criminally charged for his disclosures. As a result he protected his anonymity for more than 30 years although he was reportedly accused many times of being the informer.
Despite great personal risk there has been and will continue to be courageous employees who do the right thing and report corruption. Good employees do not have to tolerate or fear the bad ones.
John F. Hein is an adjunct instructor of criminal justice for the American Public University System and a retired executive of the former U.S. Customs Service. He served 35 years in civilian and military security and law enforcement agencies. He is a member of ASIS International, an association of security professionals, and has been a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) since 2001. He is the author of Inside Internal Affairs: An In-Depth Look at the People, Process and Politics.