From a business perspective, working under government contracts can be a very good proposition. In general, a stream of orders keep coming in, revenue increases and a company can realize tremendous profits. The obvious downfalls when working in this manner are high quality expectations, as well as the extensive research and documentation required for government contracts. If a part fails to perform correctly, it can cause problems that can carry serious repercussions, such as in the B.F. Goodrich A7D brake scandal. On June 18, 1967, the B. E Goodrich Wheel and Brake Plant in Troy, Ohio, received a contract to supply wheels and brakes for a new air force aircraft (Shaw & Barry, 2010). Goodrich proposed a lighter-weight, four-rotor brake instead of the traditional five-disc brake. Before the air force could accept the brake, B. F. Goodrich had to present a report showing that the brake passed specified military qualifying tests. The last two weeks of June 1968 were set aside for testing the brake, giving Goodrich almost a full year for design and testing (Goodrich Case).
John Warren designed the brake, but Searle Lawson, a newcomer to B. F. Goodrich, was assigned responsibility for final production. Lawson began testing the brake using a prototype. In the first round of testing, the prototype reached 1,500 degrees. After a few tests, the linings of the brakes were disintegrated. Lawson tried new linings, thinking that was the problem, not the brake. Again, the test failed. He concluded that there was a design flaw, the four-disc brake was too small, and a five-disc brake may be more effective. At this point, a redesign of the brake would mean delay and this meant that the brake would most likely not be ready for delivery on time. Goodrich had assured the air force that the four-disc brake was possible and would be ready. Warren, the original designer, did not want to admit to any error or liked the idea that a new employee, fresh out of college, had found the error. Warren believed the brake linings were the issue, not the brake design. According to Warren, the four-disc brake was viable, and that was that (Shaw & Barry, 2010).
The disagreement between Lawson and Warren meant that upper management needed to be consulted. Lawson approached the project manager, Robert Sink to explain the problem. Sink, knowing the politics of the company, was not willing to agree with Warren. He believed that Warren would be able to fix, or at least minimize, the problem, since he had designed the brake. Sink advised Lawson to continue testing the linings using various other materials. Twelve tests were conducted, each resulting in failure. It was becoming evident that the brake was faulty not the linings. Test flights by the air force were now only 70 days away. Only a major redesign could fix the problem. Panic set in. During the testing phase by Lawson, Sink had been continually assuring the air force that the brake tests were going smoothly, which was a complete fabrication (Heilbroner, 1972). In April 1968, Kermit Vandivier became involved with the brakes.
He had discovered many discrepancies between the military specifications and the qualification tests carried out at Goodrich. It was Vandivier’s job to write the documentation to accompany the testing data in the qualification report. Given the discrepancies, Vandivier questioned whether he should write a report that was so out of line with the military specifications. Vandivier took his concerns to his immediate supervisor. He was assured that the testing laboratory would not issue a misrepresentation of the qualification tests. However, within a few days, a typewritten copy of the test logs was sent out. Virtually every entry in the test logs was altered. On hearing of the interim report, Vandivier questioned Ralph Gretzinger, test laboratory engineer, who told him that Lawson had directed the test lab to miscalibrate the instruments, at the order of one of Lawson’s superiors.
When Vandivier approached Lawson about the changed report, Lawson confirmed Gretzinger’s account. Lawson told Vandivier that he was told, that no matter how the brake continued to test, Goodrich was going to qualify it (Goodrich Case). The brake was nursed through the last test and Vandivier was told to write up the final report that it passed and was qualified according to specifications (Shaw, 2010). Vandivier was incensed and refused to write a qualification report he felt was based on falsified data. He had no choice though. Goodrich submitted the qualification report on June 12, 1968, without either Vandivier or Lawson notifying the chief engineer or Goodrich corporate headquarters in Akron of their misgivings (Heilbroner, 1972). In mid-June 1968, flight tests on the brake began at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Lawson witnessed the tests on Goodrich’s behalf. There were numerous mishaps during the flight tests. Both Lawson and Vandivier were concerned over the safety of the brake and the fact that the reports were falsified. They both decided, from advice from their attorneys, to go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the same time, because of the various mishaps during testing, the air force was demanding the raw data from the qualification tests conducted by Goodrich (Goodrich Case). Goodrich declined the request. Lawson resigned from Goodrich and Vandivier was dismissed from Goodrich for disloyalty. He soon took a job at the Troy Daily News and told his editor about the problems he had at Goodrich (Heilbroner, 1972).
The story reached Senator William Proxmire who was receptive to Vandivier’s tale of misdeeds at Goodrich. On May 13, 1969, Proxmire requested that the Government Accounting Office (GAO) review the brake qualification testing performed by the Goodrich plant in Troy. The GAO reviewed the operations at Goodrich and submitted a report to Proxmire on July 3, 1969. Once the report was received, Proxmire made a public announcement on the Senate floor about Vandivier’s allegations against Goodrich and the GAO investigation (Goodrich Case). In August 1969, a Congressional Hearing, chaired by Proxmire, was held before the Subcommittee on Economy in Government. The GAO Report and Congressional Hearing testimony illustrated that Goodrich’s qualification testing procedures did not comply with government specifications (Goodrich Case).
This case raises several ethical questions. First, was it right for Vandivier to go behind the back of the managers at B.F. Goodrich and contact his attorney and later the FBI to report the events that were occurring? Vandivier did not have much of a choice other than to whistle blow on the company. After being forced to make the choice to create the falsified documents or lose his job, being guaranteed no protection from outside prosecution with an investigation imminent, having supervisors who did not consider their actions unethical and illegal, and having no access to the upper management, Vandivier had no other options within the company. Could he have tried harder to reach out to the upper management and get their attention? Possibly, but Vandivier states that there was no one above his immediate supervisors or coworkers that he felt he could take it to (Heilbroner, 1972).
The head engineer of his plant, Bud Sunderman, disconnected from day to day activities and corporate headquarters, did not provide any means to report such offenses (Heilbroner, 1972), so Vandivier did the only thing he could to protect himself. Normally in large companies today, there is someone assigned to investigate allegations such as these. There was no such group for Vandivier to notify and he did not have this option, which would be his primary means of notifying corporate headquarters (Heilbroner, 1972). Because of the issues stated above, Vandivier took the only option he had in order to protect himself and was right in taking the whistle blowing action he did.
Ethically, should B.F. Goodrich have Reported Failure? In general, lying is unethical. B.F. Goodrich lied on the reports (Goodrich Case). The reports contained vital information that showed whether their brakes passed or did not pass the test flights set forward by the Air Force. Whether B.F. Goodrich falsified the reports because they were out of time or because they got lazy, it was unethical for B.F. Goodrich not to report failure when failure was evident. It is unethical to compromise safety, lie, and misguide someone or anyone. B.F. Goodrich did all of these (Heilbroner, 1972).
Legally, should B.F. Goodrich have Reported Failure? A contract is a written agreement that both participating parties must abide by and honor. B.F. Goodrich accepted the contract by the Air Force (Shaw, 2010). The contract required that B.F. Goodrich submit reports as to if failure was or was not evident on the qualifying tests set forward by the Air Force (Goodrich Case). B.F. Goodrich did submit these reports but lied on them. By not following the contract, B.F. Goodrich committed an illegal act.
The Goodrich brake scandal is an example of how a corporation may duck responsibility for the sake of making a profit, and how employees may blow the whistle on such fraud. The brake could have caused major malfunctions in the aircraft and pilots could have died, but luckily, the defective brake was never used. Goodrich eventually went back to the five-disc design. Ultimately, I believe that the government should never have allowed Goodyear to test its own brakes. If independent testing of the brakes was performed, this entire scandal could have been avoided.
Goodrich Case. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wadsworth: http://wadsworth.com/philosophy_d/templates/student_resources/0534605796_harris/cases/Cases/case73.htm Heilbroner, R. (1972). In the Name of Profit. New York: Doubleday. Shaw, W. B. (2010). Moral Issues in Business. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.