Options for Action When an Engineering Ethics Threshold Is Reached 25
avoid publicity, to avoid making waves. Engineers are very quiet people”
(Kumagai, 2004).
I believe a more appropriate term for whistleblower is conscience.
Therefore, in this text we define the employee conscience as an employee
working to change an organization in which he or she is employed.
The employee may contact authorities within or outside the organization.
We also define the observer conscience as a person working to change an
organization in which he or she is not employed.
Regardless of whether an engineer decides to act within or outside an
organization, there are practical procedures that should be followed. First,
this action should only be performed if all normal channels have already
been exhausted. During the time these normal channels are being pursued
and during subsequent action, detailed records, including copies of sup-
porting documents, should be kept of all relevant data, formal meetings,
and applicable interactions. The records should stick to facts and exclude
emotional observations. If possible, these actions should be conducted with
other employees, as there is strength in numbers. Even if others are unwill-
ing to join the employee, they should at least be consulted for advice so
that the employee does not work in isolation. Especially if this is an exter-
nal case, a lawyer should be consulted about potential legal liabilities
(Schinzinger and Martin, 2000).
Realize that the reward for coming forward may be an investigation
into the employee’s personal and professional life. If real issues are not
found, other issues may be manufactured. When Ralph Nader, in his book
Unsafe at Any Speed, called attention to the structural defects in General
Motors’s Corvair, which he believed (an investigation by the National
Highway Traffic and Safety Administration proved otherwise) caused the
car to become uncontrollable and overturn at high speeds (see Chapter 3),
General Motors hired detectives to investigate him in hopes of discrediting
him. It later issued Nader a public apology and paid $425,000 to settle a
civil action for invasion of privacy (Cullen, 1994).
One of the most famous employee consciences in recent years is Sherron
Watkins, former Enron vice president of corporate development (Figure 2.1).
Her two letters to Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay detailed how Enron hid
billions of dollars in debts and operating losses inside private partnerships
and complex accounting schemes in order to support Enron’s inflated stock
price. Though Watkins herself never publicized the letters, the letters became
important documentation to government investigators of the Enron scandal
(Duffy, 2002). Watkins’ situation and those of other employee consciences
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26 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
Figure 2.1 Enron employee conscience Sherron Watkins.
Drawing by Lori Hiris from her 2003 animated film, The Invisible Hand. Reprinted with
permission of Lori Hiris.
laid the foundation for the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act’s whistleblower
clause. In this section, we discuss applicable legislation, procedures, and
examples of employees fighting for change within an organization in which
they are employed.
In 1978 the U.S. Congress included language in the Civil Service Reform
Act to protect federal employees from retaliation for making disclosures of
information regarding misconduct.After the courts and government agencies
created loopholes that limited who was protected, Congress unanimously
passed the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) in 1989. Because the courts
and agencies continued to create exceptions for who was protected, Congress
passed amendments to strengthen the WPA in 1994. After a series of hostile
judicial rulings creating more loopholes, S.995 and H.R.3806 were introduced
to further the WPA in 2001 (POGO, 2001). Although not passed, similar
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