Michael Davis

Presumably, Joe's support of the application would require him to exercise his professional judgment. That is, I'm assuming that "support" is not just a matter of testifying that he made certain calculations and stamped the documents in question. Given that assumption, Joe has a conflict of interest.

Presumably, Joe is a PE. He should then begin by checking the engineering code of ethics for the state in which he is licensed. If it instructs him to avoid all conflicts of interest, he must tell his past employer (and client) that he is no longer available. Some other PE would have to replace him and, before supporting the application, would have to review the details and reach the conclusion it was properly done. That would be an added expense for the client -- and an inconvenience for Joe's former employer -- but not that big a deal or that unusual. Engineers come and go. They die. And so on.

More likely, however, the code will allow Joe to serve a past employer in a matter like this with the informed consent of the current employer (the state). Let us suppose that the state, or at least its legal department, consents after full disclosure to Joe's serving the previous employer without compensation. The question remains whether he can properly serve his former employer under these conditions. He will have to take the side of his former employer while opposing his present employer. Might he tend to soften his position in order not to upset the state -- fearing, perhaps, that word would get back to his supervisors? Or will he bend over backward to be fair to the past employer, thereby giving the past employer a stronger case than he would have had he not also been working for the state? There really is no clean way to serve his past employer in this case. Testifying against the state when he is in its employ looks disloyal even when it does not raise conflict of interest issues. Joe should therefore decline -- for the sake of both his profession and his own reputation.

The answer would be different only if Joe's testimony were, for some reason, irreplaceable. Where the former client cannot have justice without Joe testifying, Joe should testify, but only after making clear the conflict of interest issues both to the former client and the relevant state officials and getting consent from both.

Commentary On

Scott Lewis is an engineer aware that an ABC employee is about to violate federal regulations designed to protect the environment. If he is a chemical engineer, he may know something of the history of those regulations, especially about how many seemingly safe means for disposing of waste turned out to be unsafe, how important keeping track of waste is to making sure only safe means of disposal are used, and how many of the EPA's seemingly over-technical standards are what experience has shown necessary for EPA inspectors to identify and understand a waste disposal problem relatively quickly.

The regulation forbidding return of chemical waste to its home site may be such a standard. Waste can flow in only one direction, away from the home site toward a licensed disposal site. All involved in handling a shipment of toxic waste can tell something is wrong the moment they see the flow of waste reversing. What alerted Lewis to a potential problem was precisely that Tom Treehorn proposed to reverse the flow. The regulation did what it was supposed to do. What should Lewis do?

Treehorn, head of ABC's Division of Chemical Waste, says Lewis should do nothing: "Trust me--I'm a good guy." Let's suppose that Treehorn's intentions are good. Still, he is breaking a law. He doubts the ability of those specially trained for the job, "the off-site folks," to do the job properly. He claims no authority from above. As he explains it, he alone knows what to do. He's sort of Lone Ranger of the wild wastes. The ancient Greeks had a saying, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." Treehorn is one whom the gods seem to have marked for destruction.

Lewis, though (presumably) an ABC employee and responsible for inspecting the warehouse, does not seem to be one of Treehorn's subordinates. He has a freedom of maneuver he would not have if he were under Treehorn. This makes response easier than it might otherwise be. The first thing Lewis should do is suggest that they call in Treehorn's superior and see what he thinks. If Treehorn refuses, that would settle things. Lewis would know he was dealing with a Lone Ranger in no position to pressure him. He and Lewis could get back to their job, finding a way to dispose of the wastes legally.

If, however unlikely on the facts as given, Treehorn agrees to bring in his superior, Lewis need make no decision until the whole issue has received a good discussion. Since it is hard to know what such a discussion would reveal, let us assume hereafter that Treehorn does not take Lewis' suggestion but instead withdraws his own. Should Lewis leave matters at that?

What Treehorn suggested to Lewis he may have suggested to others before. Indeed, the confident tone in which Treehorn made his suggestion suggests he has made it before with more success. Lewis should therefore consider raising the question with someone above Treehorn. But with whom? The better organizations will have some procedure, a hotline, ombudsman, or open door. Where such a procedure exists, Lewis could use it. If ABC has no such procedure, Lewis should seek the advice of his own supervisor, putting his concern in writing and making clear both how serious the problem could be and how incomplete his evidence is. He should keep a copy for himself. If custom allows, he should send a copy to everyone in the company who might be interested, including the Legal Department. (The more people who receive the memo, the harder it will be for any particular person to ignore it.)

Lewis should take care that his memo sounds like this: "I have no real proof of a problem in Chemical Waste. But we must investigate anyway. We have been put on notice of a potential problem. If we don't investigate and it later turns out there was a problem, we will look bad and the company will suffer." There are two reasons for taking this subdued but serious tone. One is, obviously, that Lewis could be wrong. Treehorn may have made his suggestion without thinking and thought better of it as soon as he saw Lewis's reaction. Lewis should not do Treehorn more harm than necessary. The other reason Lewis should take a subdued tone is to preserve his own credibility. Speaking softly, staying within the evidence, generally carries more weight than screaming, especially in the early stages of an inquiry when sides have not yet formed. Lewis ranks low. He does not have much credit. He should take care to husband it.

If Lewis does this much, then, even if the investigation turns up nothing, he will be in the clear. He will have alerted his superiors and given them the chance to do what they should. He need do no more because he has no knowledge that the public health, safety, or welfare is in fact threatened. He had only a well-grounded suspicion that Treehorn may be violating EPA regulations.

If the "worst" happens and years later Lewis receives a subpoena, he can dig out the memo and appear in court ready to tell what he knows. If ABC did a good investigation, those who did it will be able to tell what they know. They can testify to having done the best they could. Perhaps Treehorn lied to them and used methods they could not reasonably have anticipated. Treehorn will be to blame, no one else. He will have left ABC with a huge waste disposal problem, a dirtied reputation, and an almost unimaginable potential for litigation. But, to the degree others did their job, ABC's liability will be less and those involved will not be personally liable or morally blameworthy.

If, however, Lewis took what earlier seemed to be the easy way, doing nothing or even helping Treehorn load the truck, Lewis will now need a lawyer. He will have to be careful what he says. The truth may be used against him in a civil suit for damages. Lying would risk criminal prosecution for perjury. Keeping silent would be self-condemning. The "worst" seldom happens, but thinking about it can reveal fundamental weaknesses in a course of action that looks pretty good on the assumption that all goes well.

Commentary On

John Budinski, quality control engineer, has both an employer, Clarke Engineering, and (through his employer) a client, USAWAY. USAWAY has specified that products manufactured for it be made in the United States. Clarke contracted to provide USAWAY with a product "made to specs." Budinski has now discovered a quality control problem. Two bolts were not made in the USA. The problem may be only "cosmetic." The bolts are as safe, reliable, and durable as their American counterparts. Indeed, the problem may not even be cosmetic. The bolts are not visible from the outside of the product and even someone opening the product for repair would have to look carefully to determine where a bolt was made. Still, the two bolts do not meet specifications and part of the job of quality control is to make sure products meet specifications. What should Budinski do?

He should certainly not keep quiet. His job is to report quality problems when he finds them. He has found a problem. Deciding what to do about the problem will require consulting others, not just "his superiors," but all those responsible for producing the product or dealing with USAWAY. Cosmetic flaws are a common quality problem. They are, I believe, seldom resolved by trying to slip the product past a customer. Instead, they are usually resolved by getting the customer to waive a specification (perhaps in return for a small reduction in price).

That may not be possible for USAWAY. They may have made their reputation by selling only "All-American" products. If so, the quality problem is not merely cosmetic. The product might fail in a way that could seriously damage USAWAY's reputation. It could fail to be "All-American." The only alternative, then, is to replace the bolts now, whatever the delay and whatever the expense to Clarke, or to try to get out of the contract.

While I doubt any quality control engineer would seriously consider passing the bolts on his own authority, the plant manager might. Plant managers tend to focus too much on "getting the product out the door" and too little on the long-term effect of what they do. Timely delivery is usually important when one company considers buying from another. So is price. But just as important is quality, not necessarily quality in any absolute sense, but quality in the sense of meeting specifications. Most companies are willing to pay a bit more and to put up with some delays if the only alternative is receiving a product they may or may not be able to use. Companies without a reputation for quality are usually pushed to the margins of the market (as are companies that can't deliver on time). Clarke Engineering's reputation for quality is an important asset, one a plant manager can easily damage in an attempt to get product out the door. A reputation for quality, once lost, is hard to get back.

What then should Budinski do if his plant manager tells him to "forget it and get the product out the door"? He might begin by asking, "What happens to the contract if USAWAY finds out what we're doing? What happens to you?" To these questions the plant manager might respond, "They'll never find out." These are "famous last words," a proverbial harbinger of disaster. Budinski should unhesitatingly answer, "The Germans have a saying, 'What two know, everyone knows.' Information like this has a way of getting out. Already everyone in Quality Control knows, plus some people on the assembly line. So, perhaps it would be smarter to assume USAWAY will find out than that they won't."

If the plant manager nonetheless persists, Budinski will have to draw a line. The plant manager's conduct threatens the welfare of both Budinski's employer, Clarke Engineering, and of Clarke's client, USAWAY. Both are relying on Budinski to control quality. His okay on a shipment invites others, both employer and client, to believe that he has checked everything in the approved ways and determined that everything at least meets specifications. If he gives his okay when he knows the product does not deserve it, he is in effect lying to those relying on his judgment. So, at the very least, he must tell the plant manager: "I can't say a shipment meets specifications when it does not. Clarke doesn't pay me to lie about quality."

Budinski probably can go this far without risking his job, but he probably should go at least one step further. He should try to get the plant manager to put his proposal to the Bright Light Test. "If you want to take personal responsibility for quality on this shipment," Budinski might continue, "you can do it. You're the manager. I won't object--so long as you inform the head office. They have a right to know you're risking Clarke's reputation." Considering his proposal under the hard light, senior management might shine on it, the plant manager may have second thoughts. For example, he may suddenly realize that, while he thought of his proposal as serving both his own interests and Clarke's, senior management might not see things that way. If anything went wrong, he would be--as the saying goes--"up a creek without a paddle." He might then draw senior management into the discussion.

What if senior management eventually approves sending USAWAY the products without notifying them of the failure to meet specifications? So long as Budinski does not have to vouch for the products' quality, he need do nothing more. The public safety, health, and welfare are not threatened. He has done about all he reasonably could to protect Clarke's reputation. He has given senior management a chance to do the right thing.

No doubt, Budinski's disappointment will be great, great enough perhaps to make him look for another job. Budinski should, however, not allow disappointment to overshadow the confidentiality he still owes his employer. He should not be the teller of "war stories" from whom USAWAY first learns of what Clarke did.

We must, I think, recognize that the temptation to "leak" something to USAWAY will be great, even if Budinski stays with Clarke. Clarke might benefit from such a leak. Letting that shipment go out over the objections of quality control will set a precedent. Clark will thereafter have more trouble maintaining quality--getting product "out the door" will trump quality--unless the USAWAY decision turns out badly. If USAWAY learns what Clarke did and responds forcefully, Clarke will not soon let timely delivery trump quality again. Clarke will have learned a lesson, one likely to make it a better company, a company its employees can respect.

Still the temptation to do good is here a temptation to do wrong. The NSPE Code II.4 recognizes Clarke's right to make business mistakes, even ones involving moral turpitude, provided they do not threaten the public safety, health, or welfare, or require an engineer's participation. (Compare NSPE Code II.1.a and II.1.e.)

This is a case about conflict of interest in two professions, engineering and university teaching. Until recently, only a few professions, most notably law and public accounting, paid much attention to conflict of interest. Engineering codes of ethics did not include a general provision on conflict of interest until the mid-1970s. The NSPE's code still relies heavily on the older language, grouping most (but not all) conflict of interest provisions under Rule 3's "[acting] for each client or employer as faithful agents and trustees." Colleges and universities only began to worry much about conflict of interest in the mid-1980s. Even now they seem to worry about it far less than they should.

The first question, then, is which profession's standards apply to "you." Will you be serving on the committee (primarily) as a member of the faculty, as a member of the engineering faculty, or as a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers? The answer, it seems, is that Vice-President Jackson wants you because of your reputation as a researcher, that is, because you have been a good (academic) engineer. He probably does not know, and would not care if he did know, that you are a member of the NSPE. So, it seems, you must respond to him as an engineer, using the NSPE code or some other engineering code) as a guide to understanding what your profession requires of you in these circumstances.

The essence of conflict of interest is the undermining of independent judgment. Your training and experience as an engineer give powers of judgment others lack. Part of being a professional is exercising those powers in a certain way, that is, according to the (morally permissible) standards your profession sets. So, for example, people ask engineers to do certain jobs because they want such jobs done in the way engineers characteristically do them.

An engineer can fail to meet professional standards either by failing in competence or by failing in independence. An engineer fails in competence when she acts without knowing what members of her profession expect each other to know when they take on a job of that sort. An engineer fails in independence if, while competent for the job, she is subject to pressures, loyalties, commitments, or the like that make her less likely than otherwise to do the job as a competent member of the profession would. A conflict of interest makes an engineer less reliable than she would otherwise be.

Since their usefulness to employer, client, and public depends in part on their being reliable agents, engineers should generally avoid conflicts of interest. Sometimes, however, the conflict is not serious enough and costs of avoidance are high enough that avoiding the conflict may not make sense for client, employer, or public. When that is so, you need not avoid the conflict--provided you meet two conditions.

First, you must have the informed consent of your employer or client. Part of being a faithful agent is warning your principal when your judgment is not as reliable as it would normally be. Your principal can then decide whether he prefers to avoid the conflict by replacing you or accept the conflict, taking the necessary precautions and hoping for the best. That decision is his, not yours.

Second, you must be satisfied that you can do what is asked of you in a way that will not bring you or your profession in disrepute. (Cf. NSPE Code III.3.) Appearances can be as important as reality. The consent of your employer or client is part, but only part, of maintaining appearances. The rest is your responsibility, not your employer's or client's.

You warned the VP of your conflict of interest. He understood the problem well enough to offer a common means of avoiding it: don't participate in any decision that directly affects you. He still wants you to serve on the committee. Should you? You have much to consider.

One thing you need to consider is whether you can take the VP's consent as that of your employer, the university. You also need to decide whether you have a client as well as an employer (for example, the academic community). For brevity, let's just assume that you have no client here (the academic community being more like the public than a client) and that the VP's consent is your employer's consent (though, in a any large organization, that assumption is by no means safe).

Next you must consider whether that consent is sufficiently well informed. Information can seldom be complete. You have, however, not done all a faithful agent or trustee reasonably could do under the circumstances. You have not tried to bring home to the VP all the problems inherent in what he is asking of you. In particular, you have not pointed out two conflict problems and one appearance problem his response ignores. These problems are also reasons for you to reject serving on the committee even with the VP's informed consent.

One problem you have not pointed out concerns your ability to judge the proposals competing with yours. Since you are doling from a limited pot, you have some incentive to judge other proposals more harshly than you would otherwise. Not only do you stand to benefit from so judging them, but you may also compare them to your own, giving your own the benefit of the doubt while not doing the same for others. We all tend to favor our own work. You may well not do it deliberately or even knowingly. You may do it nonetheless. Or you may try to compensate for that tendency. You may then "bend over backward to be fair" and, by so doing, judge other proposals less harshly than you would otherwise. The problem of conflict of interest is not that you will necessarily serve yourself at the expense of those you are supposed to serve. Even you cannot know whose interest you will in fact serve.

Your presence on the committee may produce a similar problem for other committee members. Leaving the room when your proposal is discussed reminds everyone else who proposal it is (or, if reviewing is blind, actually tells them.) Since people generally favor people they know over people they do not know, those with whom they work over strangers, and so on, leaving the room avoids the effect of discussing the proposal with you present by generating another (though somewhat less serious) tendency to favor you (or to bend over backward not to favor you). Has the VP weighed these effects before pressing you to serve?

That leaves the problem of appearances. The appearance of wrongdoing is itself something to be avoided. For those who do not know the truth, the appearance is indistinguishable from the thing itself. The mere appearance can therefore do as much harm to cooperation among members of a profession as real wrongdoing. The message conveyed is that cooperation is falling apart and everyone would do well to serve herself.

An appearance is something that more information would dispel. But if you cannot provide enough information to dispel the appearance before it does harm, you must view serving on the committee (while applying for a grant from it) as including the harm.

I believe it was Charles De Gaulle who remarked, "The indispensable man, the cemeteries are full of them." You might remind the VP of that when you respectfully, but firmly, decline to serve--or give up your plan to submit a proposal.

People like to advise someone in Elizabeth Dorsey's situation, "You cannot serve two masters." The advice confuses Dorsey's situation with that of a slave.

A slave has a master, an owner with absolute power over him. Only one person can have absolute power over you at any one time. You can only serve that master properly by serving no other. A slave with divided loyalties is, by definition, a bad slave.

Dorsey is not a slave. She is a free person. A free person has no master. Having no master leaves her free to develop relationships with whom she pleases. With such relationships come loyalties, commitments, and other interests. Sooner or later some of those interests will come in conflict. Freedom is messy.

Freedom is especially messy for engineers. The engineer, simply by working as an engineer, undertakes to serve the public, clients, employer, and profession--four "masters". The engineer also tries to serve himself in a morally appropriate way. That is, he tries to earn a decent living by serving public, clients, employer, and profession in the way engineers should. Each profession tries to define itself so that, for example, serving the public does not conflict with serving one's employer. But, since human foresight is weak, such conflicts still occur.

Dorsey has conducted herself as a good engineer should. Not only has she used her engineering knowledge to benefit her employer, she has made it available to a citizen's group she believes to be serving the public interest. She has, in the words of the NSPE Code III. 2.a, "[worked] for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of [her] community." And, as a result, she is in trouble.

Her employer has asked her to lobby for it. Lobbying is normally the responsibility of Public Relations (or some other department without engineers). Nonetheless, engineers may properly participate in lobbying as engineers. They may provide help on technical questions. An engineer could, for example, properly make a presentation to Parkville's city council explaining how CDC's plan would protect the environment.

An engineer's participation in lobbying is, however, necessarily limited. An engineer cannot put the weight of her professional judgment behind whatever her client or employer wants. She must believe what she says. Deception cannot be part of her job. Engineering codes of ethics are unanimous on that. (NSPE Code III.3.a.)

Yet, down the chain of command has come this request for Dorsey's non-technical help in lobbying for CDC's proposal. What can be said about the request itself? There is, I think, nothing inherently wrong with it. But for her interest in Parkville's environment, Dorsey might have been happy to do as asked, lobbying not as engineer or loyal employee, but simply as Liz Dorsey, commuter (someone who would like to work nearer home).

So, David Jensen, her supervisor, has no reason not to convey the request to her. Indeed, whether he knows of her activities in Parkville or not, he has an obligation to give her the chance to decide for herself what she will do (as well as an obligation to his superiors to do as asked). He should, however, consider which Dorsey he is asking (engineer, loyal employee, or commuter). Which he thinks he is asking will affect his tone and may well affect how Dorsey responds.

Dorsey's problem is the result of her (properly) having a life of her own about which her employer (or a part of it) does not know. CDC has ignorantly put Dorsey in a bind. What should she do? If Jensen sounds at all like a superior when he asks her to lobby, Dorsey's first impulse will probably be to protect her privacy, avoid confrontation, and tell a "white lie". While such lies are (generally) morally permissible, they are not consistent with an engineer serving her employer as a faithful agent. White lies do not meet "the highest standard of integrity [in professional relations]". (NSPE Code III.1] An engineer who feels it necessary to tell an employer white lies should seek a new employer. Something has gone seriously wrong between her and her employer.

What should Dorsey do? She might begin by explaining everything to Jensen and asking his advice. He is a potential ally. He may well dislike having to ask a subordinate to do something "political". He may know how firm the request is, what assumptions it rests on, and how best to respond. The request is not necessarily written in stone. It might even be written in water, no sooner made than forgotten. Senior executives do not always appreciate the effect their works will have on subordinates. Jensen is more likely to be helpful if treated as a helper.

But let's suppose the worst. Though Dorsey seeks Jensen's help, he eventually sighs in exasperation, "I'm only the messenger. You must decide for yourself and take the consequences." What should Dorsey do now? She must, I think, say something like this: "Sorry. No can do. I've been working with the Parkville Environmental Quality Committee for more than a year now. They'll certainly oppose CDC's plan. I don't want to choose between CDC and my neighbors. Tell the people upstairs that I have a conflict of interest."

Dorsey should, I think, say something similar to the Parkville Environment Quality Committee even if she believes CDC is clearly in the wrong. Unless she is willing to quit CDC now, she should not directly help the Committee. The most she should do is advise the Committee on how to find another engineer. She should do no more than this for at least three reasons.

First, openly confronting CDC is likely to poison her relations with her superiors. She has access to information outsiders would not have. CDC probably has no way to know whether any of that information is relevant to the Parkville plan. They are therefore likely to view her as a potential spy, an enemy within.

Second, the public is likely to suppose that she knows more than she in fact does. Employees generally do not openly oppose their employer unless it is doing something outrageous. Dorsey is likely to be identified as a CDC employee. Her opposition will therefore carry more weight than it would had she no connection with CDC. CDC will find her status as an employee working against it. Unless CDC has done something to deserve that disadvantage, Dorsey should not treat her employer as if it does.

Third, Dorsey probably can't conduct herself properly while working for CDC and helping the Committee. The more headlines she gets for the Committee, the more likely her relations at work are to go sour. The more her work relations sour, the more likely she is to overdo or underdo what both CDC and the Committee need to have done right. She would not be able to provide either with the independent judgment she guarantees anyone for whom she works as an engineer.

So, she should thankfully take Bartlett's advice when it comes. "Cooling it" will allow her honorably to maintain good relations with both her employer and her neighbors. Being an engineer does not require her to choose between them this time.

This is a complicated case. But the underlying theme seems to be what to do with potentially useful information. So, it is worth pointing out right away that most large organizations under-use information, especially information generated near the "bottom." They don't do this intentionally but by creating an atmosphere in which information does not move to where it is needed. Employees see problems but don't report them because (in Rick Duffy's words) "it's somebody else's concern" or because they suppose (again in Duffy's words) "[the company doesn't] want to put out the money to change it."

Most companies should do more to ensure that the higher-ups get the information available to those at the bottom. The Japanese are better at that than we are. Our larger companies are only now beginning to adopt such Japanese practices as "quality circles." But even the Japanese could do more.

New to the job, Carl Lawrence, engineer, is an important resource. He is looking at the plant with new eyes. He might well pick up things invisible to those used to things as they are. He won't be able to do that for long. Kevin Rourke, the plant manager, should ask him for suggestions. But, even if Rourke does not, Lawrence should tell Rourke what is bothering him abut the caustic distribution system. He should, of course, do this with due modesty. He has a lot to learn. There might be a good reason for the difference between the acid distribution system and the caustic distribution system. Still, part of being a good engineer is seeing ways to improve exiting systems. Lawrence has seen something, or at least thinks he has. He owes it to his employer to pass that information along.

The problem Lawrence faces several months later again concerns information. He forgot that no one was working during the early afternoon on the side of the building where the C-2 valve was. Whether or not he was to blame for forgetting that, the fact that he forgot is important. Perhaps his forgetting shows a need for an automatic shut-off valve or, at least, for a written procedure, including a checklist, for handling emergencies like the one that just occurred. Everyone makes mistakes; the smart ones learn from them. The company will learn less from this one if Lawrence does not report what he did wrong. That is why, according to NSPE Code III.1, engineers are supposed to "admit and accept their own errors when proven wrong and refrain from distorting or altering the facts in an attempt to justify their decision."

Lawrence should be slower about identifying Duffy as responsible for leaving the valve open. A manager who blames his subordinates is like the carpenter who blames his tools. Rourke will press Lawrence if he thinks who left the valve open is important. But, even if Rourke does not press him, Lawrence will have to decide whether Duffy's part was important. If Duffy's conduct was extraordinary, something unlikely ever to happen again, there is no need to consider changing the physical plant. Duffy was the problem. If, however, Duffy's conduct was not all that unusual, this was an accident waiting to happen. The plant, or its procedures, is the problem.

If Duffy's conduct was important, Lawrence probably should tell Rourke the whole story while withholding Duffy's name. Rourke can demand Duffy's name if he wants it. In the meantime, the etiquette of protecting subordinates will have been observed. If, however, Duffy's part was incidental, Lawrence should simply say so: "It could have been anyone. I'd just as soon not say who it was."

Of course, Lawrence's connection with Duffy makes the decision harder. Duffy is not just another employee. He is more like a friend. So, Lawrence has a conflict of interest. His judgment may favor Duffy in a way it would not favor just anyone he supervises. He should tell Rourke that too. Hearing that, Rourke may not be so inclined to rely on Lawrence's judgment concerning Duffy. His not relying on Lawrence's judgment does not necessarily mean Rourke will fire Duffy. We have no reason to suppose that Rourke's heart is made of stone. But should he decide to fire Duffy, knowing Duffy and Lawrence are close should make Rourke less inclined to assign Lawrence the painful job of delivering the bad news.

Rourke's doubts about reporting the caustic spill differs little from Lawrence's doubts about reporting what he knows to Rourke. True, the information Rourke has is needed by the water treatment works rather than by someone inside the company. The organization having trouble using the information available to some of its members is society as a whole. Where does Rourke's ultimate loyalty lie? For an engineer, there is only one answer, with the public. An engineer is, as such, committed to "hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public in performance of his professional duties." (NSPE Code II.1) Rourke, an engineer acting in his professional capacity, can prevent serious harm to a public facility, harm for which the plant he runs would be responsible. He certainly should notify the waste treatment works about the caustic waste headed its way, and he should be as candid as necessary to prevent the harm that would otherwise occur.

Protecting the public interest in these circumstances will probably serve Rourke's employer as well. The public tends to make life miserable for businesses that don't pay enough attention to the public interest. But engineers do not hold the public safety, health, and welfare paramount for that reason (or, at least, for that reason alone). Individuals organize into professions in part to protect themselves from being pressured into doing what they do not want to do. There is strength in a common code of conduct. Engineers, whose knowledge gives them the power to do the public great harm, have agreed to make the public interest paramount to assure that they will not be forced to harm the public. Each engineer can say, "If you didn't want the problem handled in this way, why did you want an engineer for the job?"

What should Lawrence do when someone considering Duffy for a job calls, quotes Lawrence's letter of reference, and asks whether he has omitted any negatives? Here again one person has information that would be useful to another. Here, however, we also have concerns about deception and about confidentiality, both Duffy's and the company's. What should Lawrence say?

I don't think he can honestly say there are no negatives. Causing a significant chemical spill (with thousands of dollars in losses) is a negative in anyone's book. That negative is, however, not necessarily decisive, and the full story is not that damaging to Duffy. He clearly understood he had done wrong. He did not lie about it. He was repentant. He might now be a safer worker than someone who had never seen how much harm his carelessness can do. Why not tell Duffy's prospective employer the whole story? The story will do Emerson Chemical no harm (assuming it behaved properly). Duffy might still get the job. And, if he does, he will not get it under false pretenses.

Unfortunately, Lawrence probably cannot tell the full story without getting Emerson Chemical's permission. Insofar as Lawrence will be telling more than the media have already reported, he will be revealing confidential information. An engineer should not "disclose confidential information concerning the business affairs or technical processes of any present or former client or employer without his consent." (NSPE Code III.4) By preserving the confidences of their employers, engineers make it easier for their employers to share information with them and so, easier for them to do a good job. Lawrence should probably tell his caller something like this: "I can't talk now. I'll call you back in an hour or so." He can then get clearance from whoever has authority to give it.

Telling Duffy's potential employer a "white lie" is not a justified (or even excusable) alternative to this cumbersome process. Duffy has no right to expect Lawrence to lie for him. And, under the circumstances, it is hard to see how such a lie could be morally justified or excused. Such a lie would therefore be a violation of an engineer's professional obligations as well. Being morally inexcusable, such a lie would amount to "conduct...likely to discredit the profession" (NSPE Code III.3) and fall well short of "the highest standards of integrity" (NSPE Code III.1).

Nurrevo has no more right to expect Andrea Smith to lie for it than Duffy had to expect Lawrence to lie for him. But that is not what Nurrevo is asking of Smith. Once Nurrevo learned that Rourke's action would take care of both spills, it also knew that the public interest was no longer at stake. The only question was who would pay for the disaster for which Nurrevo was a responsible as Emerson Chemical. There is, strictly speaking, no "cover-up". Nurrevo has not denied its responsibility. It has said nothing. Nurrevo is asking Smith to keep this dirty secret. Smith owes her employer that much. (NSPE Code III.4)

That is not to say all is well at Nurrevo. There is a good chance that Fred Barnes did not tell his superiors about the problem, that Nurrevo is developing a collection of dirty secrets, and that those secrets will soon be numerous enough to make everyone fearful of open communication. Nurrevo will not be a pleasant place to work. If I were Smith, I would start looking for another job.

[Michael Davis has modified the case somewhat in order to make it more a problem of engineering ethics than of business or purchasing ethics.]

You have been put on the spot. You are an engineer in Purchasing. The head of your in-house shop has called to ask the prices obtained from outside suppliers bidding on a certain job. He wants those prices to help him prepare his own bid on the same job. What should you do?

Such requests are likely to occur when a company begins to make its "inside supplier" more efficient by forcing it to compete with outside suppliers by making them compete with an insider. Unless a company has been careful to make clear to everyone involved what the point of the new practice is and how it is supposed to work, certain misunderstandings are inevitable. Insiders, for example, are likely to assume that they have an "inside track". Outsiders are likely to worry about that too.

Generally, competition between inside and outside suppliers will benefit the company only if the competition is fair. If the insider has an inside track, outsiders will not take the trouble to bid. Preparing a bid costs money. Would-be suppliers are not likely to spend their money on preparing a bid unless they have a good chance of getting the contract. Once it is clear that inside suppliers have the inside track, an outside supplier has only two options, to charge for preparing its bid or to decline to bid. The company will then have to pay the cost of the outside bid or see the outside competition disappear. Doing a favor for the shop head has a large hidden cost.

The head of the shop probably did not think of things this way. He probably thought of the situation as "us against them", where "us" is the company and "them" is the outsiders. It is "us" against "them". But "us" is only his shop. The rest of the company is the umpire. The old friendships, the hello in the hall, the same centrex, none of that matters anymore. You and the shop are no longer on the same team. The company has ceased to exist as a competitive unit. While every part has the same objective in one respect, maximizing return on investment for the owners, each part has a different objective in another. Each seeks to maximize return on what has been invested in it, whatever the effect on other parts of the company. The owners are supposed to benefit overall, even if some parts of the company suffer as a result. This is a coherent strategy. Whether it will work in a particular company is, of course, another matter.

What then should you do? Probably the best thing would be to suggest a meeting of appropriate department heads to discuss bidding procedures. That would get you off the hook for now. It would allow the issue to be aired in a relatively friendly environment. And it would probably help everyone to understand better what the rules really are (or should be).

One should certainly not begin with the assumption that the shop head is trying to obtain an unfair advantage. If, however, he declines to discuss his request with other department heads, you will have reason to believe that he knows he is doing something shady. You can then tell him to put his request in writing and you'll clear it with your boss. That should be the last you hear of it. You should probably also mention the incident to your superior, accompanying it with the suggestion that there may be a need for further training in Purchasing and elsewhere on the new relationship between department.

Commentary On

Part of being a good professional is making distinctions. This is a case that calls for distinguishing between lying, deceiving, and merely failing-to-reveal. Lying is much more likely to be morally wrong, all things considered, than is deceiving; and deceiving, more likely to be morally wrong than just failing to reveal.

To lie is to state as true what you do not believe, intending that the person to whom you are speaking (or otherwise signaling) will believe what you say. To deceive is to try, by whatever means, to get someone to believe what you do not believe. To fail to reveal is to do nothing when you could provide information that would change what another believes. Lying is a kind of deception; deception, in part a failing to reveal.

We have a general moral obligation not to lie. Excusable lying is rare; justified lying, rarer still. We also have a general moral obligation not to deceive, but both excusable and justifiable deception is more common. The reason for this difference is that too much lying would make communication impossible, while too much (non-lying) deception would simply make us more wary where we could not get assurance in words. Even in war, this distinction is important. For example, while feigning retreat to trick an enemy out of its fortifications is morally permissible, using a flag of truce to do the same is not. The flag of truce preserves the possibility of communication between enemies. War would be crueler if a flag of truce meant nothing. The cruelty would, on balance, benefit no one. Not everything is fair even in war.

In contrast, failing to reveal is not necessarily morally wrong even where lying or deceiving would be. We have no general moral obligation to tell all or to correct the misconceptions of others. Indeed, failing to reveal is morally wrong (all else equal) only when we have undertaken to reveal what we do not reveal (for example, by contracting to warn) or when the harm to be prevented is great relative to the cost of revealing the information (for example, where a word would keep someone from walking off a cliff).

So, keeping silent is not deceptive just because XYZ might benefit from hearing what Winters is thinking. How much one should open one's thinking to others is a matter of judgment, taste, and convention. Some customers want "only the facts" while others want to participate in the fact finding as well. Some engineers like the give-and-take of thinking together. Others don't want to talk until they know. We recognize much latitude in such matters. "Privacy" is the word we most often use to invoke this recognition. Winters is under no moral (or professional) obligation to express his "suspicions".

Acknowledging fault under the circumstances is, however, another matter. While ordinary people are not obliged "to hang out their wash," engineers are. According to the NSPE's Code III.l.a., engineers "shall admit and accept their own errors when proven wrong." So, if the mistake were Winters', he could not keep silent. He would have to tell XYZ at the first opportunity.

Of course, the mistake in question is not Winters' (or Nash's) but someone else's at R&M. So, Winters is under no obligation to speak up. No one's health, safety, or welfare is at stake; and, so long as no one asks him what happened, nothing in his relationship to XYZ could reasonably lead its representatives to misinterpret his silence. The same would be true of Nash if, as is likely, he too is an engineer.

The letter to XYZ explaining the credit adjustment presents a different problem. If (as suggested) the adjustment was made because R&M made a mistake, the letter, as written, states as true what is in fact false. R&M (apparently) wants XYZ to believe what R&M knows not to be true, that the credit was given (primarily) for one reason when it was in fact given (primarily) for another. The letter seems to include a lie.

That lie cannot be justified (or even excused) on grounds of business necessity. XYZ may well see through it, reducing its trust in R&M. Even if XYZ does not see through it, the lie probably will not benefit R&M. In the short run, the lie saves the people responsible from public embarrassment, but R&M is unlikely to get any business because of that. In the long run, customers are likely to realize that R&M routinely covers up its mistakes. Its lies will become useless. Indeed, they will probably become worse than useless. They will reduce communication between R&M and its customers. R&M may lose its customers' help in tracking down and correcting problems. Why help if all you ever hear from R&M is that it's not their fault but they'll reimburse you anyway? So few R&M customers are likely to find such defensiveness attractive that the practice of not "hanging out the wash" seems certain to hurt R&M in the long run. And, in business, the long run is seldom more than a decade.

Winters might want to think about the problem from another angle: what should a faithful agent or trustee of R&M do when R&M's longterm interests are at stake? Nash may be thinking about R&M, or he may be thinking about his own cousin down in Quality Control. The manager who eventually wrote to XYZ may know the whole story or only what Nash told him. Nash (for whatever reason) may not have told his superiors everything. People are not necessarily more open with superiors than with customers. Like water, information does not flow upward without help. The lying letter may have been the work of ignorance, not cunning.

So, though Winters may think of himself as trespassing on management's prerogatives, he probably should check with superiors to see how official "the official position" really is. I would not be surprised if he found that, while Nash honestly thought he was doing what his superiors wanted, they wanted no such thing. Instead, they had not really thought the matter through yet and now, hearing a different opinion, have begun to rethink a practice that had grown up without anyone noticing.

If this turns out to be so, Winters will have learned at least two lessons he should take with him into management. The first is that he should not emphasize the distinction between management concerns and engineering concerns. The most likely effect of such emphasis is to bottle up in engineering information a manager would like to have. The second lesson Winters might take with him is how easy it is for a large organization unintentionally to put its agents in a situation where they believe the organizations wants them to do things it in fact does not want them to do.

I have so far been assuming that R&M Machinery is not an engineering firm, that is, a firm with engineering in its title and owned primarily by engineers. An engineering firm, like an individual engineer, would have a positive obligation to admit its errors (just as individual engineers do) and an obligation to make sure its employees understand that.

This seems to be a time to blame alcohol and illegal drugs for many of our problems, including crime, inefficiency, and low scores on achievement tests. The empirical evidence is too incomplete to establish even a strong correlation between, say, drug use and inefficiency. And what evidence we do have does not tell us which is cause and which effect. For example, unprofitable companies may have more alcoholism, absenteeism, and accidents than efficient companies. But are they unprofitable because their workers are drunk on the job, absent too much, and prone to accidents? Or are the workers drunk, absent too much, and prone to accidents because the company treats their workers so badly that they just don't care anymore/ Some companies have been able to reduce alcoholism, absenteeism and accidents simply by making work more interesting. Profitability has followed. Other companies (like Branch) have adopted drug testing with no noticeable increase in productivity. So, we must be careful not to confuse symptoms of trouble with causes.

Managers are as human as the rest of us. Like the rest of us, they tend to blame others for a problem long before they consider blaming themselves. Every manager wants to be a "can do guy". Few will admit to being stymied. None will say, "I'm the problem. I'm a bad manager. Fire me." Yet, managers certainly can be stymied. And some are bad managers and should be fired--or, at the very least, put in a position of less responsibility.

From this perspective, Branch looks like a badly run company the management of which is looking for someone to blame. Like many American companies these days, they have hit upon those who "abuse" alcohol and certain illegal drugs. Those who "abuse" tobacco, coffee, and chocolate are exempt; as are those who drive wildly or can't pull themselves from the TV set. The result is predictable: a witch hunt more likely to hurt efficiency than help it.

Consider Andy Pullman. His work has always been first rate. By all the usual standards, he should be promoted to head Quality Control. Yet, John Crane now has doubts. He has frequently smelled alcohol on Pullman's breath. Pullman apparently drinks on the job. Crane has never seen him drunk, unable to perform. But, we are told, Crane worries that, with new responsibilities, Pullman's "drinking problem" will worsen. Why suppose Pullman has a drinking "problem"? What makes drinking alcohol during the day--but not drinking coffee during the day--a "drinking problem" at all? Every drunk begins as a drinker, no doubt, but most drinkers remain drinkers. The correlation between drinker, even heavy drinker, and problem drinker is not strong, unless the correlation is made by definition (for example, by defining as a "problem drinker" anyone who averages more than two drinks a day). Equally important, we are not very good at predicting who will be a good manager. The only reliable way to find out whether Pullman can take the pressure is to give him the chance.

Pullman does have a problem. He likes to drink on the job and his company now has a policy against that. Crane has a problem too. He works for the same company. He knows of a fellow employee who is violating company policy and has (in effect) been asked whether he knows anything that would justify not promoting Pullman. Crane is an engineer. What should he do?

He must, I think, first make up his mind whether he thinks Pullman can handle the job. He must make up his mind about that because Hillman has asked him what he thinks about that, not whether Pullman has a drinking problem. He has referred to the drinking policy and old Curtis' drunkenness to illustrate the sort of thing he had in mind. The "drinking problem" is only a problem if it unfits Pullman for the job.

If Crane believes that it might unfit Pullman for the job, he should say something. Pullman has no right to confidentiality on this. Pullman did not voluntarily reveal his drinking to Crane as a secret between friends. Crane simply smelled Pullman's breath. Crane has but his professional judgment at his employer's disposal. What he is being asked is within his competence (and not morally wrong or contrary to any professional obligation).

If, however, Crane does not think Pullman's drinking unfits him for the job, he can honestly say, "I think he would make a good Head of Quality Control." But he should not stop there. If I were Crane, I would continue in some such way as this: "Since you mentioned shoddy production, I'll give you my professional opinion on that too: we should be paying more attention to worker complaints about too few rest breaks, bottlenecks on the assembly line, and our failure to design parts for easy assembly. Quality Control is a devilish job the way we've set up the manufacturing process. I'm not surprised old Curtis turned to drink."

An engineer is supposed to be a "faithful agent and trustee" of her employer. Crane's employer is Branch, Inc., not any manager or collection of them. As trustee, he should take into account not only the company's present policies but its longterm welfare. Of course, Crane must be careful not to take too much on himself. He cannot just substitute his judgment for management's. But if, after resolving all reasonable doubts in favor of management, he still believes a certain policy is against his employer's longterm interests, he need not go along with it. He may work against it as best he can (so long as he can do so without lying, deception, or other unethical acts). A faithful trustee will look beyond management fads.

Commentary On

What makes this case seem hard is that everything is, or at least seems to be, extreme. Tom Banks is in the last day of his month's training. According to his trainer, Charles Yost, Banks is already good enough to be out on his own. Banks agrees. Yost is also quite ill, his sick leave already exhausted, and his finances so bad that he can't afford to take off a day without pay. He is unwilling to tell his superior, Howard Hanson, any of this. He tells Banks, "Howard doesn't have anyone available to replace me this week and this job can't wait." All this may be as it seems. Then again, it may not be.

For example, Hanson might have someone to spare for a day of supervising or he might do it himself. He might even be willing to wait until Monday. After all, his motto is "Better late than sorry!" What Yost is proposing to Banks is that they cut Hanson out of the decision-making process, that they take over management of this job to do something (they should know) their employer would probably not approve. Whether or not Banks is ready to supervise installation of containers on his own is almost irrelevant. Though later events may suggest Banks needs more training, he has already received as much training as he is going to get. One day more or less should make no difference to his reliability.

The question is simply who should decide to put aside Axtell's standard procedures for the convenience of one of Axtell's employees. Clearly, Hanson should. Even in the short run, this might also be the more prudent course. Hanson could do things neither Yost nor Banks could. For example, Hanson might have informed Cameron Chemical, the company for whom the work was to be done, obtained its approval for Banks to work alone, and told Banks to go ahead. Hanson might have thought such a departure from his usual (but not legally mandated) procedure permissible given both Banks' training and Cameron's approval. Well, that's not how Banks thought about it. He and Yost made the decision on their own. By all rights, that should have been the end of it. But it was not.

Three installations performed on that day seem to have been defective. Chemicals leaking from three containers damaged valuable equipment. Cameron is threatening to sue. What should Banks tell Hanson when he tries to find out what happened? The truth: though the records report that he and Yost inspected the three installations on the last day of his training period, in fact he alone inspected the, Yost being too ill to do his part. Why not tell Hanson that? He needs the information to formulate his legal strategy. The information is hardly decisive. It reveals Hanson's legal position to be only slightly weaker than he supposed it to be. Axtell's procedure at Cameron on that day, though not quite Axtell's usual procedure, still went well beyond what the law requires or the industry generally practices. Cameron's storage facility, improper handling of the containers,or even sabotage still remain more likely than three improper installations Banks failed to catch.

People not used to business often panic at the first mention of a law suit. Yet, law suits are simply part of doing business (and usually end up as disputes between insurance companies). Hanson should no more be shielded from the facts while he prepares for the suit than he should have been shielded from deciding whether Banks should go it alone. Once Hanson knows what happened, he will be in a better position to decide whether to fight or settle. But what if Hanson responds, "That's not what I want to hear"? Banks should look Hanson in the eye: "I'm sorry, Howard, I failed you when I was a trainee. I've learned my lesson. I've learned to keep you informed. You can fire me if you like, but I'm not going to lie for you. Think about it: If I lie for you in court, will you ever be able to trust me again? Can you run this business with liars?" Whatever Hanson answers, Banks should not lie about any of this. Lying is never part of an engineer's job. (NSPE Code III.1.)

If, however, Hanson simply asks Banks not to volunteer the information to anyone else, Banks should do as told. Indeed, he should keep quiet anyway. The information in question is clearly confidential. (NSPE Code III.4.) Though there are times when confidentiality must be violated, this is not one of them. Neither the public health, safety, or welfare is at stake. Banks does not know, or even have good reason to believe, he made any error at Cameron. Banks should not worry about working with Axtell's lawyer. Presumably the lawyer will coach Banks in how to avoid revealing confidential information during legal proceedings, not try to get him to lie about what happened at Cameron. Like engineers, lawyers have a code of ethics. Their code forbids them to cooperate in perjury.

A conflict of interest exists when someone who is supposed to exercise judgment on behalf of another is in a situation where he has some special connection, commitment, or other interest making him less likely to judge correctly than he otherwise would. The appearance of a conflict exists where someone may, on the information available, reasonably conclude that a conflict of interest exists. An appearance of conflict is merely an appearance if the person supposedly having the conflict can, upon request, show that he lacks the special connection, commitment, or other interest or that, while he has the interest, there is in fact no reason why it should affect his judgment.

"Appearance of conflict of interest" should not be used as a polite way of talking about an actual conflict of interest. Problems of appearance can be handled by providing more information. Actual conflicts of interest can only be handled by giving up the interest causing the conflict, by withdrawing from the situation altogether, or by getting the informed consent of the person on whose behalf one is to exercise judgment.

The State Board's problem is not a mere appearance. It really could have a conflict of interest. Its members will have received benefits from the NWSPE that, in some future decision, may make them view that organization with a friendlier eye than the facts justify. Mileage, a few nights lodging, and a few good meals don't add up to much. The whole package may be worth no more than $500 for each engineer over three days, less than most could earn in the same time. For those engineers already at the resort for the NWSPE conference, the package will be worth somewhat less, since travel would not be covered. Still, a gift generally carries more emotional weight than the cash that paid for it.

What should Brian Simpson do as a Board member who thinks the NWSPE's invitation would, if accepted, involve the Board in a conflict of interest? If New Wyoming is like many states, it has a State Board of Governmental Ethics to which such questions should be put (and a State Code of Ethics prohibiting certain conflicts of interest). Simpson should give the Board of Ethics a call and see what they advise. If they have been around for even a few years, they probably have had a question like that before, thought it through, and issued an advisory opinion. Such an opinion would certainly clarify the situation. It might even preempt the Board's decision.

But let's suppose New Wyoming has neither a code of ethics nor a board of ethics. What then? Simpson is on the State Board of Professional Engineers because he is a licensed engineer who the State, in its wisdom, thought would do a good job overseeing the practice of licensed engineering in the state. He is supposed to use his knowledge of engineering to distinguish between engineers who meet minimum standards and those who do not. He is on the board as an engineer, not as an ordinary citizen.

Simpson is not a member of the NWSPE. He is then not subject to the NSPE code. But, let us suppose that New Wyoming, like some states, includes a code of ethics more or less equivalent to the NSPE's in the statute providing for licensing. Simpson could then conclude that NSPE Code II.4 might apply. Simpson should "act in professional matters for each employer or client as a faithful agent or trustee."

But does it apply? Is the State's relationship to Simpson that of employer or client of an engineer? Simpson is not a state employee. Most likely, he is a volunteer reimbursed only for expenses. Even if he receives something more than expenses, it will be as an official, not as an employee. Is the state then his client? What is a client? No engineering code defines that term. The dictionary is a bit more helpful. It offers several possibilities: a customer; the dependent of a patron; or one on whose behalf a lawyer, accountant, or the like acts. The state is certainly not Simpson's customer or dependent. That leaves one possibility: an engineer's client is someone on whose behalf the engineer acts. Since it seems reasonable to think Simpson is supposed to act on the state's behalf when serving on the Board, we may think of the state as his client. He should act as the State's "faithful agent and trustee". What does that mean here?

NSPE Code II.4.a requires engineers to "disclose all known or potential conflicts of interest to their...clients by promptly informing them of any business association, interest, or other circumstances which could influence or appear to influence their judgment or the quality of their services." If this were the only relevant provision of the code, Simpson's only responsibility would be to make sure the Board informed the Governor, the Secretary of State, or whichever official it reports to. Is there any other relevant provision?

While no other provision of the NSPE Code is both relevant and specifically concerned with conflict of interest, two at least seem relevant. Code III.2.a requires engineers to "strive to serve the public interest". This is not much help. The Board is conducting the joint meeting in order to benefit the public. Even Simpson has not suggested that the roundtable discussion of common concerns will not be useful.

Code III.3 is not much more helpful. It requires engineers to "avoid all conduct or practice which is likely to discredit the profession or deceive the public". But it gives no direction concerning whether the sort of conflict of interest in question here is likely to discredit the profession. There seems to be no reason to think it should deceive the public.

Why doesn't the Code simply outlaw all conflicts of interest? The answer is that some conflicts of interest are so trivial and the costs of avoidance so great, that a client may be better off with an agent who has that conflict of interest than she would be if she had to get a new agent or if this agent purged himself of the conflict. Is this such a case? Perhaps. After all, the chances of an actual conflict between the NWSPE and the State Board is small. The effect of the NWSPE picking up the Board's expenses is likely to be both small and short-lived. The advantage to the State of a joint meeting, on the other hand, might be substantial. Even Simpson seems willing to admit that. So, assuming disclosure to the state and its consent, why not?

We have now reached the question of appearance. Can the Board explain what it proposes to do in such a way as to dispel any appearance of impropriety? The Board almost certainly can explain it to the Governor, Secretary of State, or other official to whom it reports. But the State is a peculiar client. It will not be well served if the Board causes trouble between it and its "client", the public.

The Board should therefore do what it can to reduce the public appearance of conflict, for example, by getting the State to pick up as much as possible of the cost or, at least, by having the money for expenses channeled through a State account. As the Board considers how to avoid public misinterpretation of what it is planning, it may come to wonder whether Simpson might not have identified the best approach after all. The cost to them of avoiding the conflict is not all that much.

But suppose the Board decides to let the NWSPE pick up expenses. What should Simpson do if some member of the public asks about ethical issues the Board has faced? He certainly should mention this issue of conflict of interest (assuming he has no more interesting ethical issues to report and no rule bars him from discussing what goes on at Board meetings). He should try to be fair to both sides. Reasonable and decent people might differ on this issue. He should, however, not be afraid to talk publicly about the public's business. (NSPE Code II.1) Part of any dispelling any appearance of impropriety is publicly airing the issue before there is a scandal. The public is likely to be more trusting of people who seem enough aware of the potential for trouble to take sensible precautions. Scandal grows in darkness.