Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why it's easy to teach ethics in Washington

MSBA Program Director
Stewart McHie
The Master of Science in Business Analysis degree at Catholic University is founded on the principle that commerce, when practiced properly, provides a meaningful and dignified service to society.  To integrate the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and human dignity into all of our subject areas, we use case studies, scholarly writings, and the real world experiences of our professors combined 130+ years of experience working for Fortune 100 companies.

By virtue of our location in Washington DC, just minutes from the US Capitol and downtown Washington and the business rich environs of Maryland and Northern Virginia, we are fortunate to be able to attract outstanding guest lecturers like Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb),  Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn, and international author and scholar Alexandre Havard.

And to add even more relevance to our discussions on business ethics, we have our own backyard of the Washington government and political scene.

Consider the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board:

Recent news stories making the rounds about this oft criticized, politically appointed board provide plenty of material for class discussions.  The Inspector General's office issued a blistering report of the lavish spending and travel practices, followed by a rebuke from Transportation Secretary LaHood.  Other elected officials have described the board as "dysfunctional".  

A new ethics policy, meant to address out of control travel spending, nepotism, recusal and other rules, seemingly in line with good corporate governance, was adopted - over the objection of some members. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the board:

"Draconian and a straightjacket" (transparency can indeed be embarrassing.  Welcome to the real world)

"In all candor, every person on this board would be in violation of this policy.  This is a federal town, c'mon.  What the hell?  - H.R. Crawford  (maybe this is why the public is fed up with the federal town Mr. Crawford)

"There are many things in here that have been violated by directors in the past." - Gregory Wolfe  (banks have been robbed in the past but that doesn't mean we should keep doing it, Mr. Wolfe)

Regarding the the new prohibition against recommending relatives for jobs, Warner Session said, "You effectively eliminated our summer intern program."    (Really Mr. Session?  I'm sure I could find you many deserving and capable interns that aren't related to a board member.  Give me a call.)

Can you eat on $71 a day?  Apparently Shirley Robinson Hall cannot.  She notes, " our lifestyle is not based on a government employee lifestyle".  (Given the $4,800 dollars spent on three meals in Hawaii, let's hope not!)

And how does this happen?  Board member Mame Reiley, resigned from the board and the next day was given a five year contract with a one year severance package. Her employment has since been terminated, but not her severance package of $180,000.

While I personally find these attitudes representative of what's wrong with our government and the entitlement mentality of public officials, I do appreciate the opportunity to have so many real life examples to help educate our students in the right way to use commerce to serve society.

What do you think, am I being too sensitive with my tax dollars?

Stewart McHie
Director, Master of Science in Business Analysis

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