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Components and Aspects of Whistleblowing in Engineering Essay

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2021

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore components of whistleblowing in engineering through case studies of notable cases in various fields and professions, including cases of Michael DeKort, Franz Gayl, and Diane Hartley. It highlights these cases of three whistleblowers who have displayed various aspects of whistleblowing, the reporting and subsequent legal issues.

It analyzes whistleblowing as a means of enhancing professional ethics, protecting lives and reputation of organizations. In addition, the paper discusses the US laws on whistleblowing, responsibilities and rights, possible conflicts of interests and obligations alongside the ethics in whistleblowing. Overall, the paper urges employees who have witnessed waste, fraud or illegality to blow the whistle.

Introduction

Engineers have a critical, unique position with regard to identifying and reporting unsafe practices or misconducts that result from their employers or project clients. In such situations, legally or morally, licensed engineers have the responsibility to ‘blow the whistle’ on stakeholders under such circumstances (Oliver, 2003). In addition, they have a code of ethics to follow (Floyd, 2012). The IEEE provides an example of a code of ethics for engineers (IEEE, 2015).

Therefore, whistleblowing is vital for any engineering company. It enhances corporate governance and protects the public from disastrous projects (Matthewson, 2012). Whistleblowing gives employees opportunities to act on perceived misconducts, promote safety practices at workplaces, protect public health, organizational reputation and profits.

In this regard, the whistleblower has the responsibility to report potential misconducts. One must however understand that whistleblowers do not have investigative roles in such cases. Whistleblowing is a matter of necessity. The nature of engineering projects or studies are usually complex and therefore some cases of misconduct may only be detected once they have taken place and someone familiar with the project details report about them.

Whistleblowers have obligations to act once they witness any forms of misconducts. While reporting processes should be formal, whistleblowers have several paths to blow the whistle on alleged misconducts to provide a chance for further inquiries (Kalichman, 2001).

The purpose of this project is to explore some known whistleblowers, including Michael DeKort on the case of Coast Guard Deepwater program, Franz Gayl on the US Marine Corps who were poorly protected by Humvees, and Diane Hartley’s role on the flaw with Citicorp building.

The paper further covers the US Laws concerning whistleblowing protection, the rights, responsibilities, and obligations to report fraud, waste and abuse. It also explores potential conflicts of whistleblowers’ obligation and corporate secrecy or national security laws and if there are any reward systems.

Michael DeKort on the Case of Coast Guard Deepwater Program

Michael DeKort said that he was a worker of Lockheed Martin between “1992 and 2006, and his engagement with Deepwater started in July 2003 when he join the project where he worked as the Lead Systems Engineer for project” (Boyd, 2010, p. 1), noted Michael DeKort.

DeKort worked as a project manager at Lockheed Martin. He had posted a video on YouTube.com to show the misconduct of the company. DeKort felt that the company contracted to handle the project had failed to meet contractual conditions of “C41 systems on onboard United States Coast Guard’s 123 Coast Guard Cutter, manufactured for the Deepwater program” (Boyd, 2010, p. 1).

It is known that before going public on YouTube with his whistleblowing video, the whistleblower had notified his manager, members of the executives, including the CEO of company and its Board of Directors (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1). Although DeKort had raised concerns internally with the company executives, his concerns were persistently ignored for more than two years.

As a result, the whistleblower raised complaints with the “Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General and Congress” (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1). DeKort was relieved of his duties at the company and subsequently went public with the YouTube video in the year 2006. The video was widely viewed. Consequently, it led to Congressional probe on the misdemeanors that surrounded the all Deepwater Project (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1).

The so-called Deepwater Program was a 25-year project focused on introducing new facilities to the US Coast Guards. Deepwater refers to several various Coast Guard acquisition programs for replacing and improving all aging ships and aircrafts with deepwater capabilities (O’Rourke, 2012). The equipment for replacement consisted of aircrafts, command control systems and logistics, ships among others at a cost of $24 billion.

At the completion of the program, it was expected to deliver “interoperable system equipped with new cutters, large and small boats, a new fleet of fixed-wing aircraft, new and upgraded helicopters and the UAVs (land- and cutter-based unmanned aerial vehicles)” (O’Rourke, 2007, p. 2). In addition, all these facilities were to be linked with the Command, Control, Communications and Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems, and the contract involved Performance-based logistics (O’Rourke, 2007).

After the whistleblowing of the Deepwater Program, there were changes. For instance, boats were replaced, engineering programs were altered, and Lockheed Martin and the US Coast Guard had to reach an agreement on the electronic systems among other issues. The Deepwater Program was also reverted to the US Coast Guard while the Department of Justice embarked on the pursuit of Lockheed Martin and several other contractors involved in the project (O’Rourke, 2012).

Michael DeKort was credited for exposing the alleged wrongdoing that involved changing the “Coast Guard’s 110-foot patrol boats to 123-foot patrol boats as part of the Deepwater program” (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1). In this regard, the “electrical equipment [C4ISR] for communication and navigation” (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1) installed by Lockheed Martin on the boats failed to meet the minimum requirements under the contract.

As previously mentioned, DeKort had initially raised the issue with his management, senior executives and the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin but they persistently ignored his concerns. DeKort later decided to go public with his whistleblowing video on YouTube.

DeKort left Lockheed Martin in the year 2006. While details on his personal life remain scanty, it is known that DeKort also filed False Claims Act lawsuit against Lockheed Martin Corp and was later recognized for his interest in public good. Currently, DeKort is aggressively pursuing the lawsuit against other contractors engaged in the Deepwater Program.

Lockheed Martin was suspended from the contract, and he later faced Congressional investigation. However, by the year 2010, a press release from the company read that it had continued to satisfy delivery and work obligations based on parts of the project of Deepwater task orders, and the company was willing to engage further with the U.S. Coast Guard in its vital national security projects (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1).

The engineer turned a whistleblower had filed lawsuit against Lockheed Martin under the False Claims Act lawsuit. In 2010, it was revealed that DeKort and the comapny had agreed on an accord to negotiate the court case for undisclosed amount of money (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1). DeKort, however, insisted that he would pursue similar claims against “other contractors, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Inc. and Integrated Coast Guard Systems Inc. involved in the misconduct” (Boyd, 2010, p. 1).

The outcome of the lawsuit remained confidential between Lockheed Martin and DeKort (Boyd, 2010). However, under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers are entitled to a percentage of the sum of money won for damages for the government and themselves. According to Lipowicz, the US government some $720 million from the company and the whistleblower was permitted to collect nearly $250 million if the case went on successfully (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1).

The District Court dismissed claims because of the confidential arrangement between the two parties. However, DeKort intended to pursue claims against the other two defendants, but the District Court had not delivered its verdict. If this appeal fails, then DeKort intends to pursue the issue at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Lipowicz, 2010, p. 1).

Franz Gayl on the US Marines’ Humvees

Franz Gayl was “a civilian scientist (the Marine Corps science adviser) who assisted the US to change its Iraqi Humvees strategy” (Locker, 2008, p. 1). Gayl gained fame after become a whistleblower on the issue of the US Marine Corps who were poorly protected by Humvees during the War on Iraq. Through his efforts, Senators referred to him as a hero because he helped the Pentagon to deliver heavily armored military vehicles referred to as MRAPs (the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) to battleground (Smith, 2010).

According to Gayl, in February 2005, Marine Corps leaders had failed to fulfill a pressing Marine request from Iraq battlefield for 1,169 vehicles (Locker, 2008, p. 1). Instead, Marine Corps leaders and analysts did not purchase the MRAPs immediately but rather opted from more armored Humvees, which were considered unsafe and were attributed to several deaths and injuries in Iraq because of roadside bombings (Locker, 2008).

Gayl was involved in advising the Marine Corps and had been a Marine for many years. After doing the report, he noted that a lack of MRAPs was responsible for several deaths in Iraq. Consequently, the report had made an urgent request for the MRAPs to be delivered to the battlefield in Iraq. However, the Marine Corps Leaders and other personnel delayed the delivery of the vehicles (Locker, 2008).

Gayl was responsible for exposing the delays in delivering the MRAPs. In his report, Gayl had criticized the Marine leaders for their delays in delivering the MRAPs. In May 2007, Gayl sought for federal whistleblower protection. He further briefed the Congress about the poor protection of Marine Corps in the field and the delays in meeting the troops’ request for heavily armored vehicles (Locker, 2008).

In January 22, 2008, Gayl stated in his report that Marine Corps bureaucrats did not comprehend the need for such vehicles and consequently delayed the purchase because they were focused on “saving money for a future project known as the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and proceeded to buy more Humvees” (Locker, 2008, p. 1). Gayl wrote that Marine Corps bureaucrats did not realize the “danger posed by the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq in 2005 and was secondary to the JLTV project” (Locker, 2008, p. 1).

These improvised explosive devices were the largest single killer of the US Marine Corps troops in Iraq and in fact, they were associated with over 60% of all the US troop casualties in the field (Locker, 2008).

Marines Corps Commandant James Conway had however denied that the Marines had regarded the matter as urgent. Instead, they had requested for vehicles that could “resist underbelly IED blasts not a specific call for MRAPs” (Locker, 2008, p. 1).

The request, on the contrary, had specified MRAPs severally. In the report, Gayl wrote that the Pentagon could have “purchased 53 South African-made MRAPs in the early 2005, deliver them to Anbar province in Iraq” (Locker, 2008, p. 1), and as a result, provide the need protection from IEDs.

The Marines bureaucrats had however failed to take any action. Another denial emanated from Major Manuel Delarosa, a representative for Marine Corps who referred to Gayl’s report as “predecisional staff work” (Locker, 2008, p. 1) and therefore, it was improper to discuss it.

After the delivery of the MRAPs, it was reported that “no Marines had lost their lives in 300 attacks targeting the vehicles” (Locker, 2008, p. 1). After this revelation, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates referred to MRAPs as the Pentagon’s top procurement main concern and ordered the department to purchase more and send them into war in Iraq immediately (Locker, 2008, p. 1).

Gayl further noted that the Pentagon had disregarded several instances to purchase and deploy these vehicles. White-dominated armies in South Africa and Rhodesia had used MRAPs since 1970s. Gayl had studied their success in Africa and therefore he knew that they were effective for the US Marines in Iraq.

Gayl concluded that the Pentagon could have adopted more effective actions against rebels immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein (Locker, 2008, p. 1). As a result, more billions of dollars and lives could have been saved immediately.

The Pentagon, however, had delayed the much touted counterinsurgency strategy that was responsible for “saving lives and breaking up the insurgency, and the delays provided opportunities for Iraqi insurgents to develop their skills in IED and have chances for killing several US troops in the field” (Locker, 2008, p. 1).

Consequently, the Marines had to make their requests for MRAPs because nothing else was effective on controlling the IEDs. The MRAPs offered about “five times more protection against roadside EID blasts relative to the Humvees” (Locker, 2008, p. 1).

Gayl blew the whistle on poor Marine Corps protection by using a study report, which he later shared with Marine leaders, analysts and other bureaucrats.

Since 2007, the GAP alleged that Gayl suffered a dreadful ordeal for his MRAP whistleblowing, although he was only fulfilling the request of the US senior field general in Iraq, who could not to get the lifesaving equipment sent to the battlefield in Iraq for more than one year (Government Accountability Project, 2014).

Between the year 2007 and 2014, Gayl had to go through “a reprimand, many suspensions, a criminal investigation, threats of dismissal associated with poor performance, dismissal from duties, a loss of security clearance credentials, a proposed job demotion, salary cutoff and other related forms of whistleblower harassment” (Government Accountability Project, 2014).

The Special Counsel in the case got “a stay of ongoing and the case proceeded into mediation in 2011” (Government Accountability Project, 2014, p. 1). After seven years, the Marine Corps and Gayl reached a settlement, including keeping his current job, a significant award, and appointment to a new committee on whistleblowing to extend and propose procedures and rules with detailed rights and obligations of whistleblowers (Government Accountability Project, 2014, p. 1).

His attorney touted the outcomes as unprecedented and praised the Marine Corps for its bold move. The Alternative Disputes Resolution had a significant role to play in ending the conflict (Government Accountability Project, 2014).

Diane Hartley’s role on the flaw with Citicorp building

Diane Hartley was an engineering student at Princeton in 1978 (Whitbeck, 2011). She studied under David Billington in an engineering course on structures and their scientific, social, and symbolic implications, now known as the “Structure and the Urban Environment” (Whitbeck, 2011). Hartley developed an early interest in this course and later pursued an undergraduate thesis on the implications of such structures, particularly major office complex structures.

Hartley was interested in the Citicorp Tower. The office complex had been newly constructed and was of particular interest to the student because of some reasons, specifically “the building’s innovative design” (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1). The design of the Citicorp Tower was unique because it had to account for a pre-existing church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in mid-town Manhattan to maintain its ground level. In addition, it had to leave more space that is open at the same level.

Consequently, it was taller than other buildings allowed under the zoning laws. Hartley contacted the engineering firm that constructed the Tower, associated with William LeMessurier (Vardaro, 2013). Today, studies have celebrated William LeMessurier for maintaining engineering standards and ethics because of the Citicorp Tower. Hartley discovered that Weinstein, who was a junior officer with the company, did calculations for the Citicorp Tower.

In addition, there was only a single initial while such designs should have other initials, preferably a second engineer who checked and approved the calculations. This was odd at the time (Whitbeck, 2011). From her calculation, Hartley noted that stresses that resulted from quartering winds were significantly “intense relative to stresses generated on one side (wind hitting two sides of the complex simultaneously)” (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1).

At the time, the building code did not account for such stresses generated by quartering winds. Hartley however assumed that such a complex structure would automatically require quartering winds calculation because of the innovative design applied.

Although Hartley requested for quartering winds calculation from Weinstein who promised to deliver them, the student turned a whistleblower never received them. When Hartley shared her findings on quartering winds calculation with Weinstein, Weinstein replied and “reassured her that the structure was safe in design and therefore more efficient” (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1).

Diane Hartley used her undergraduate thesis to report this inconsistency in quartering wind calculations. Hartley quoted “the words of Weinstein in her thesis to show that her calculations of stresses attributed to quartering winds and the judgment” (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1) of the junior engineer were inconsistent. Consequently, David Billington also noticed the discrepancy in the thesis and questioned the engineer’s judgment (Whitbeck, 2011).

Citicorp Tower was re-examined based on Hartley quartering winds calculations and as a result, LeMessurier designed an innovative system to eliminate the accelerations that resulted from the vibration of the wind and introduced other changes to support the structure using hydraulic springs (Kremer, 2002). Consequently, a potential disaster in New York was averted.

LeMessurier had to face a difficult task of admitting the structural flaw, bear the professional responsibility and enlist the help of several other experts to repair Citicorp Tower to withstand a potential hurricane (Plosky & Whitbeck, 2006).

There was no lawsuit in this case. It remains unclear who performed the load bearing calculations and the quartering winds for Citicorp Tower. Although the building code at the time did not require such calculations, it was expected that such an “innovative structure would have the calculations” (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1).

This was Hartley’s point of view, but LeMessurier was ready to protect and support his company in case of a court case regarding carelessness for not including quartering wind (Whitbeck, 2011, p. 1). LeMessurier had considered them as unusual at the time (Whitbeck, 2011).

It is noted that Diane Hartley did not receive much attention, and LeMessurier did not have a direct contact with the female engineering student (Whitbeck, 2011). As a result, she was referred to as a male student because no one, perhaps, thought that a female engineering student would be able to identify such a critical failure in an innovative design (Whitbeck, 2011).

US Laws concerning whistle blowing

Individuals who have witnessed misconducts, fraud or waste in their organizations have moral obligations and responsibilities to report them to concerned internal organs or external agencies. The US enacted its Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 to offer protection to would-be whistleblowers.

The Act makes it illegal for any government agency or employee to hit back against employees who have reported such misconducts and violations in the government (Whistleblower Protection Act, 2015). In this case, the law protects rights of whistleblowers once they report misconducts. In fact, many federal organizations use information from whistleblowers to enhance corporate governance and strengthen internal compliance based on laws and regulations (Whistleblowerlaws, 2015).

It is noteworthy that sometimes the decision to step forward and blow the whistle is usually difficult, and it could scare away some potential whistleblowers. With the law in place, potential whistleblowers should go ahead and report observed instances of misconducts (Whistleblower Protection Act, 2015).

Technically, all individuals have the responsibility and authority to blow the whistle against their employers. In the government, however, the Special Counsel may take over and conduct investigation to get the report from heads of agencies if the involved whistleblower is covered by the Act (the role of Special Counsel was paramount in the case Franz Gayl). All current, former employees and job applicants for executive positions of government agencies are covered by the Act. Nevertheless, the Act has some exceptions.

For instance, federal employees whose service is deemed to include “confidential, policy-determining, policymaking or policy-advocating character” are not privy to the protections of the Whistleblower Protection Act” (2015, p. 1). Moreover, the Act does not protect employees exempted by “the US President because of conditions of good administration” (Whistleblower Protection Act, 2015, p. 1). Other agencies related to national security, FBI, Postal Services among others are also exempted from protection.

These exceptions are critical particularly in cases perceived as threats to national security or the inner operations of the government. In this case, the value of whistleblowing is not important relative to information at stake. Furthermore, any individuals who leak vital agency violations under the Act are not protected more so if they involve media in their reporting (Whistleblower Protection Act, 2015).

The policy for the Act is to focus on the violation and address them internally while safeguarding government information. Thus, the Act, to some extent, does not allow full disclosure to other outside organizations, specifically the media. This should encourage internal reporting (Ravishankar, 2003).

Whistleblowers often face conflict especially when the issue involved is of national security. In this case, a potential whistleblower should understand the status of the information and perhaps this is what Edward Snowden failed to understand (O’Neill, 2013). That is, government information may be “classified, top secret, confidential, protected or otherwise” (Nadler & Schulman, 2006, p. 1).

Whistleblowers must consider these factors (Nadler & Schulman, 2006). Whistleblowers should also consider their specific legal or ethical obligations to blow the whistle on misconducts (Delmas, 2015). There is a need to protect information and thus certain violations could be serious, especially in cases of security breaches.

Whistleblowers should also consider the issue from both public and private perspectives. Personal information should always remain confidential, but whistleblowers must know to how to handle situations in which private life issues affect public issues. In fact, Edward Snowden was quoted saying that had he taken the documents to the Congress, he would have gone to jail (Xu, 2015).

The reward system for whistleblowing should encourage people to report fraud, misconducts or wastage. However, a study demonstrated that rewards were not effective within that specific context investigated (Ayagre & Aidoo-Buameh, 2014).

Nevertheless, there are reward systems to support whistleblowing efforts. For instance, the IRS offers monetary reward to whistleblowers who report individuals that have failed to pay taxes. In this case, if the information is useful, the whistleblower may receive up to 30 percent of the collected amount (IRS, 2015). In fact, many government agencies offer millions of dollars as rewards for successful reported fraud, waste or misconduct.

Ethics of Whistleblowing

Whistleblowers are entitled to a percentage of a settled claim. In this case, issues have been raised about the ethics of whistleblowing (Gebler, 2010). For instance, in the year 2010, GlaxoSmithKline settled a claim worth $750 million with the US Justice Department, and the whistleblower, Cheryl Eckard was expected to receive some $96 million for her roles (Gebler, 2010).

On this note, whistleblowing is a potential goldmine for would-be whistleblowers who will file for a lawsuit under the False Claims Act or go straight to other watchdog agencies before working with internal bodies. Today’s organizations have developed extensive codes of ethics and standards to curb fraud, misconduct or waste. Nevertheless, the rewards could provide opportunities and incentives for whistleblowing to go far beyond the law (Gebler, 2010).

Most ethics officers prefer whistleblowers to work with internal managers before going public or to other external agencies. The concern is that many would-be whistleblowers will go to external agencies before reporting to their superiors. Many professionals and academic prefer internal whistleblowing to encourage companies to solve their internal disputes without costly court proceedings (Nadler & Schulman, 2006). Government agencies should also apply similar techniques to solve internal issues.

Whistleblowing has its challenges as noted in the case of Franz Gayl, Michael DeKort and in this case of Cheryl Eckard and Snowden. In most cases, they face retaliation and possible employment termination and therefore, it is a high-risk issue for would-be whistleblowers.

The exact character of whistleblower remains controversial and elusive. Some have argued that they are noble people who are willing to scarify self, but protect their organizations or the public.

On the contrary, others have argued that whistleblowers consist of a bunch of disgruntled, malicious and reckless employees with sinister, selfish goals (Barnett, 1992). Employees may seek for retribution against their organizations for alleged mistreatment. In this case, internal reporting systems should help, but it may also inhibit valid allegations from being reported.

Other employees may not be looking for millions in rewards. Snowden noted that he paid for his actions. Nevertheless, for Snowden it all required “a real commitment to something, a driving principle of a greater commitment to justice than a fear of the law” (Xu, 2015). Whistleblowing is, however, a dreadfully difficult and morally complex affair for individuals involved (Weil, n.d).

Thus, factors such as integrity, commitment and transparency should help employees to avoid cases of fraud or misconducts (Getz, 2013). In addition, adhering to engineering moral principles and guidelines should promote moral obligations in the profession (Nguyen, 2013).

Conclusion

The paper has explored elements of whistleblowing and its related issues and consequences to those involved. Whistleblowing is a necessity. In most organizations, fraud, misconducts or waste may only be revealed by an insider. Whistleblowing is an obligation and a responsibility. Any individual who has witnessed fraud, misconduct or waste has legal and moral obligation to act. A formal reporting supported with the internal system is the best approach.

Whistleblowing comes with consequences to individuals involved. In the end, both the accused and the whistleblower must suffer unprecedented consequences irrespective of the outcomes of the report. In fact, all case studies explored here showed that there were retaliations and some forms of consequences for both parties. Consequently, there are rewards to facilitate reporting.

Potential whistleblowers are encouraged to exploit internal systems before going public and should ask relevant questions and understand perspectives. It is better for whistleblowers to ask probing questions, determine the truth and then fulfill their duties and responsibilities of blowing the whistle. Whistleblowers however must demonstrate ethical standards, and they should be driven by altruism and public good rather than selfish goals.

References

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