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BP And The Importance Of Calling Out Corruption

A recent article in Rolling Stone shows how the combination of a corrupt process for ensuring the safety of oil rigs, corruption of the information on the risk, the actual BP disaster -- and politics -- has resulted in the biggest environmental disaster in the country's history. It also mirrors a massive problem in IT security where political expediency, short-term financial gains, and personal benefits often trump good business practice.
A recent article in Rolling Stone shows how the combination of a corrupt process for ensuring the safety of oil rigs, corruption of the information on the risk, the actual BP disaster -- and politics -- has resulted in the biggest environmental disaster in the country's history. It also mirrors a massive problem in IT security where political expediency, short-term financial gains, and personal benefits often trump good business practice.Rooting out corruption should remain a high priority for any security organization, but it's not often taken seriously enough. (Here's Rolling Stone's Investigative Report on the BP Oil Spill, by Tim Dickenson.)

One of the first experiences I had with corruption was while running an internal audit team for a large multinational company. We ran into a problem where the U.S. government had been intentionally overbilled by $1 million, but it fell outside the scope of our team's work, and this practice had been overlooked by another team that had done a review before us. After attempting to escalate and resolve the problem, it became clear the political fallout would adversely impact the senior management of the firm, and I got the, "If you carry this forward, then your career is over" talk.

Regretfully, I was both young and newly married, so backed down. It is one of my life's regrets.

But this highlights the problem with even wanting to investigate corruption: The person doing the investigation, regardless of the outcome, is putting his or her job and career at risk. No one should have to choose between doing the right thing and his or her own future ever -- let alone on a regular basis.

Having faced this problem myself and chosen badly, it is hard for me not to feel sympathy for those in the Minerals Management Service who tried to point out the problems that resulted in the spill. In fact, the article clearly showcases that people who might have been able to help prevent the disaster would have been passed over for promotion or managed out of the agency under both parties.

If it's a career-killer to focus on corruption, then why should you still focus on it?

Just look at what is happening to BP and the satisfaction rating of the Obama administration. It is likely that this one spill will cause BP to fail and Obama to be a one-term president. The fallout of the disaster is already resulting in broad staffing changes in the Minerals Management Service, and the result will likely be that the majority of folks that covered up these bad practices will lose their jobs and careers. As the investigations continue, many could end up broken financially or incarcerated for extended periods of time.

Allowing corruption might seem like the easier path, but it is potentially a company-killer, and employees who are fired or laid off from a firm or organization that has been tainted by corruption generally find themselves pariahs in a tight job market.

In the end, your real choice when it comes to investigating and reporting corruption isn't report it or save your career. It's report it or resign. In fact, in many cases you might have to report it and resign, but in the end you'll likely be better off long-term than if you allow it to continue because then you are likely to be fired and be unemployable.

It isn't particularly heroic if the personal reward for a particular action is clear. In this case, however, the alternative to not being heroic is vastly worse, and playing the hero and investigating and reporting corruption is in your own best interest. In my own case, I still regret folding under pressure, and both changed careers and changed that practice after doing it that once.

Here is hoping you can learn from my example and this BP case and not have to live with making this mistake yourself.

-- Rob Enderle is president and founder of Enderle Group. Special to Dark Reading.

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