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The Contract with the Air Force

Back when B.F. Goodrich Tires and Goodrich Corporation were the same company, B.F.
Goodrich was offered a contract to supply wheels and brakes for the Air Force on June 18, 1967.
Due to B.F. Goodrich's innovative technical design which featured a lightweight four-rotor brake
and their competitive bid, B.F. Goodrich won the contract. However, B.F. Goodrich had to put
forward reports showing that the brake passed specified qualifying tests put forward by the Air
Force before the brakes were accepted. B.F. Goodrich had close to a year for design and testing
with the following two weeks, last two weeks of June 1968, reserved for flight-testing.

The Failure of B.F. Goodrich


The brakes did however fail during the Test Flights of June 1968. Kermit Vandivier, a former B.F.
Goodrich employee, accused B.F. Goodrich and their personnel of falsifying qualification tests
and eithical misconduct. Because of this, Senator William Proxmire, a Democrat of Wisconsin,
requested a governmental inquiry into the brake qualification testing that was conducted by B.F.
Goodrich's plant in Troy. There was finally a Congressional hearing, which lasted four hours and
was chaired by Senator Proxmire, to investigate the Air Force A7D Aircraft in which the brake
problems were present.
Later down the road in 1972, Kermit Vandivier wrote an article that depicted his side of the
incident regarding B.F. Goodrich. He basically whistle-blowed on B.F. Goodrich, but in this case
he was treated as a hero who unfortunately lost his job because he did the right thing.

Ethical Issue 1: Whistle Blowing and the Firing of Vandivier:


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? Was it right for him to be
dismissed from the company because he revealed this information? This section will examine the
events surrounding Vandivier's whistle blowing on and later firing from B.F. Goodrich.

The Whistle Blowing


Whistle blowing to upper management or outside agencies was an uncommon and risky thing to
do at this time, so what made Vandivier risk his own career to report the unethical and illegal
activities of his employer? The major issue that led up to his decision was the fact that once he
did help create the falsified reports for his employer, he became involved in their crime of
defrauding the government. Vandivier from the beginning was in a lose-lose situation, as a
technical writer he was being forced to create a falsified report and defraud the government (and
risk prosecution at a later time) or lose his job immediately. As a person with a family to support,
he chose to falsify the report to protect his job at that point after having consulted his managers
and being told he had no choice but to write the report. After hearing news that the military flight

tests with the breaks caused safety issues, thus likely bringing the results into suspicion, he took
action and contacted his attorney who told him he was guilty of conspiracy to defraud the
government. At this point, he was either going to go to jail for not reporting the crime or lose his
job for reporting it. With no other accessible people to go to in the company and no protection
from legal action, he took the legal route and got in contact with the FBI in order to protect
himself from additional legal trouble. After a damage control meeting with Lawson and his
supervisors in which the major concerns were downplayed, Vandivier became an outcast in the
company. Several months later he submitted a resignation letter with a large amount of
accusations against the company in it to the head engineer of the plant, Bud Sunderman, who
until this point was not involved in the case. Vandivier was quickly fired for disloyalty to the
company before his resignation could go through.
Was it right for him to whistle blow against the company?
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. The head
engineer of his plant, Bud Sunderman, was generally disconnect from day to day activities and
the corporate headquarters did not provide any means to report such offenses, so Vandivier did
the only thing he could to protect himself. Normally in large companies today, there is someone
(or a group) assigned to investigate allegations such as these. Being that this was 1968 and
questioning the actions of supervisors was even more unacceptable than it was today, there was
no such group for Vandivier did not have this option, which would be his primary means of
notifying corporate headquarters. Because of the issues stated above, Vandivier did take the only
option he had in order to protect himself and was right in taking the whistle blowing action he
did.
Was it right to dismiss Vandivier from the company?
Vandivier was resigning from the company, so was it right for Bud Sunderman, the plant's chief
engineer, to fire him immediately upon receiving his letter of resignation? This part of the incident
seems to be an overreaction to hearing the news of what had been happening in the company
for the first time. Sunderman kept himself separated from the day to day activities of the plant,
because of this he was not aware of the events that were unfolding within the project and was
not informed of the allegations being made by Vandivier. Because of this lack of knowledge and
the perceived act of trying to bring down the company, Vandivier was immediately fired. Was it
right? No. Sunderman's lack of knowledge is not an excuse to fire employees, but rather a fault
of his own for putting responsibility for all plant activity on lower level managers and removing
himself from the operation. If he were to have involved himself in the operations, he would have
been fully aware of what was going on and the illegal activities could have been stopped before
events escalated to the point of outside involvement. Sunderman was himself partly responsible
for the actions of Vandivier, so firing him because of it was not justified.
For further reading on a similar, more recent case study involving whistle blowing at Hughes
Aircraft see the case study entitled "Goodearl and Aldred Versus Hughes Aircraft: A WhistleBlowing Case Study" found in the Similar Case Studies section below.

Ethical Issue #2: To Report or not to Report Test Flight Failure:


Should B.F. Goodrich have or have not reported the failure of their Test Flights? Were they asked
to report these failures? Ethically, should they have reported these failures? Legally, should they
have reported these failures? The following section will answer answer these questions.
Was B.F. Goodrich asked to Report Test Failure?
In the contract, the Air Force required that B.F. Goodrich put forward reports. These reports had
to contain material that proved the brakes by B.F. Goodrich passed qualifying tests specified by
the Air Force. The brakes made for the Air Force however did not pass these qualifying tests yet
B.F. Goodrich falsified these reports and submitted them to the Air Force, hiding the failure. B.F.
Goodrich was asked to report on the Test Flights. B.F. Goodrich DID report on these Test Flights.
However, they lied, rendering the reports false.
Ethically, should B.F. Goodrich have Reported Failure?
In general, lying is ethically frowned upon. B.F. Goodrich lied on the reports. 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 to not 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.
Legally, should B.F. Goodrich have Reported Failure?
A contract is a written agreement that both participating parties must abide by and stay true to.
B.F. Goodrich accepted the contract by the Air Force. 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. B.F. Goodrich did submit these reports but lied on them. They did not report the failure
that occured and these failures were required by the contract to be submitted in the report to the
Air Force. To not abide by the contract is illegal and thus B.F. Goodrich commited an illegal act.
Ethical Issue #3: Public Safety:
Public safety becomes very crucial in this part of the case study. The questions are now whose to
blame? Congressional hearing testimonies are now active to conclude who is responsible. This
ethical issue not only describes B.F. Goodrich's promises to public safety, but it also is
refreshment and a reminder to the previous ethical issues.
Did B.F. Goodrich compromise Public Safety with the failure during Test Flights?
Members of the Goodrich staff did not present an honest picture of what the four-rotor brake's
limitations were. Therefore this concludes that Goodrich staff did no at anytime compromise
public safety during flight tests and If not for the whistle blowing, possibly mass production on the
faulty brakes. But the Congressional Hearing testimony also shows that those involved
subcontractors like Goodrich were comfortable modifying reports so that their brakes would meet
the requirements laid out by the military specifications. Beyond technological and communication
problems, the evidence supplied at the Congressional Hearing make testing verification
procedures appear somewhat ludicrous for public with the failure during test flights.

Did B.F. Goodrich compromise Public Safety by falsifying Reports on Test Flight failure?
There were no clearly-defined levels of accountability for the falsifying reports. Lines of
responsibility were suppressed such that everyone's look upon project became microscopic, so
no one saw the aggregate implications of the A7D brake. In addition, testing procedures were no
longer adequate for meeting the challenges of innovation.
If the brakes or tires by B.F. Goodrich were to be accepted by the Air Force even if the Air
Force did NOT know that they failed the Test Flights, who would be responsible for any
compromise of Public Safety, B.F. Goodrich or the Air Force?
Questions posed throughout the Congressional Hearing aimed at who was responsible for the Air
Force A7D Brake Problem case. There is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest intentional
deception as a possibility; however, there is no direct evidence beyond the claims of Vandivier
the reports were intentionally falsified. Even though it's a tough decision who was responsible,
evidence from the case exposes three significant causes for the escalation of events at
Goodrich: failed technological innovation, failure to communicate full information, and lack of
credible and enforceable governmental qualification testing procedures. These causes dwindle
down to mainly Goodrich because, plain and simple they are the company that tried to cover up
the issue. The Air Force could have also blown the whistle on the test flights a little sooner also.
Conclusion:
With each increase in engineering and technological sophistication, new problems arise, and
new traps lay just beneath the surface. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of our case is that we
all need to think about whether current industry practice can meet the challenges new
technologies bring. And engineers and managers must be encouraged to admit when innovation
falls short of its promise. There will always be risk in innovation. The trick is learning how best to
minimize it.