Your mother was right

The Darleen Druyun case shows how ethics are immensely important to big busines and the advancement of the project management profession




Your Mother
Was Right

QUESTION: Why are ethics so important to project managers?

PMI's 10-page Code of Ethics is largely technical and procedural. However, it clarifies that we must be ethical to “earn and maintain the confidence” of our project's many stakeholders.

And that's fine, as far as it goes. But what are the tangible effects on organizations when ethical breaches destroy stakeholder confidence? Unfortunately, for thousands of project managers in the U.S. Air Force, the answer to that question is becoming clearer every day, as the Darleen Druyun case continues to ripple through the defense establishment.

During her remarkable 33-year career, Mrs. Druyun rose to the pinnacle of the Air Force project management community. Often cited as the most powerful woman in the Pentagon, she was seen as a reformer, slashing red tape and bureaucracy through her “Lightning Bolt” initiatives, aimed at developing systems “better, faster, cheaper.” She inspired respect—and more than a little fear—as a brutally tough negotiator, protecting the interests of taxpayers and the Air Force.

But by the year 2000, some started to see another side of Mrs. Druyun. Grateful to Boeing for hiring her relatives, she began—by her own later admission—to show favoritism to the aerospace giant, shoveling more than $400 million to Boeing in a contract where she dealt with the man who arranged the hiring of her daughter.

Mrs. Druyun's generosity to Boeing only increased as she approached her own retirement from federal service. In 2002, she began to secretly negotiate a post-retirement job with Boeing, accepting its promise of a $250,000 annual salary, with a $50,000 signing bonus. In the meantime, while still a senior government executive, she continued to approve awards to Boeing, including a hotly contested $4 billion contract to upgrade a fleet of C-130 cargo planes. Billions more went to Boeing when she agreed to an unjustifiably high price for a fleet of aerial tankers, in what she later admitted was “a parting gift to Boeing.”

Mrs. Druyun began her new job with Boeing in December 2002, but soon investigations were under way. By November 2003, both she and her primary co-conspirator, Boeing's chief financial officer, had been fired, and both soon were facing prison time. On 1 October 2005, Mrs. Druyun, once the most powerful person in the Air Force's project management world, was released from a federal prison.

There is a cloud
over Air Force
procurement that won't
be dispelled for years.
— Robert W. Wiechering, Assistant U.S. Attorney

Aside from the billions of taxpayer dollars she gave away, the most immediate impacts were, of course, on her: a career shattered, financial ruin, a reputation in tatters, nine months in prison and seven more months in a halfway house. But those immediate effects were just the beginning.

Professor Joseph A. Petrick, Ph. D., teaches business ethics at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, USA, where he also runs the Institute for Business Integrity. Dr. Petrick points out that “unethical behavior, once revealed, erodes the prospects of an organization in its external environment.” And that has certainly proven true in the aftermath of the Druyun case. Led by Senator John McCain, the U.S. Congress is probing all aspects of the Air Force's acquisition system, and those investigations have identified eight projects, with 14 contracts worth $3.5 billion, that were potentially corrupted.

Dr. Petrick, co-author of Managing Project Quality (PMI, 2002), goes further, claiming that unethical actions lead directly to poor organizational results. Certainly the Druyun case is proving that: The “Lightning Bolt” reforms she championed saved billions of dollars over the years, but many are now headed for the scrap heap, irreversibly blemished by the scandal. Her many protégés—military and civilian—are tainted as well, and just being associated with her has been the kiss of death for more than one career. PM

ANSWER: Your mother was right back when she told you that building a good reputation took decades, but that you could destroy it all in a flash and damage the good names of those around you.

Bud Baker, Ph.D., is professor and chair, Department of Management, and associate dean for Graduate, International and Community Programs of the Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University.





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