Crime & Punishment – Blame & Accountability


Gee – they go together like a horse and carriage. The CIA Interrogation controversy has been front and center this past week and what stands out, no matter what side you take, is the blame game. Blame the old White House for overstepping authority; blame the new White House for waking up the sleeping dogs. Blame the lawyers. Blame the interrogators. Blame the detainees for being such intrinsically bad people.

A process tinged with so much blame highlights that there is another principle at work here – you could call it Greed (a la Gordon Gecko) and that is the phenomena of skating right to the edge of an ethical question, or ‘getting away with as much as you can’.

The Getting Away With (GAW) principle is the polar opposite of Accountability. In the GAW, the question is never asked about whether something is legal, or moral, or right. Instead the question becomes one of degree and how far you can go without brushing up against laws, moral outrage, the notice of Congress or whatever.

If Accountability means taking responsibility for one’s actions, then GAW means not taking responsibility, not even admitting what is obviously happening, but instead pushing the responsibility onto to someone else, i.e. the lawyers, the White House Counsel, the Justice Dept., the CIA, the individual interrogators. Sort of like a musical chairs game where you go as far as you can, do whatever you want, and hope by the time the game is over, someone else is left holding the bag.

If you are wondering what this has to do with RISK – it’s the pushing around of the accountability – responsibility. If risk is going to be addressed in an analytical manner, then you have to examine, and insisit on, accountability.

So in a corporate setting, say the ENRON debacle – the justice system addresses who was accountable. Who knew what? Who signed the memos? Who shredded? Who decided?

In government decisions, there is almost a preference for non-accountability. Even though, as an organization with a budget, it should be judged just like a corporation, an association or anything else – there is a tendency for government to say “it’s the system”, as if decisions were made by the eight ball instead of an actual person. If you contribute each government decision made to an actual person, then you have accountability.
Probably why there are so many committees!

Accountability is always the Number One Control!

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