The IEEE in 1999 listed a case called “Flight is Also Risky”. The case describes the story of Ralph Sims, a senior engineer at a military company called SuperCom. After being assigned to a new division, a subordinate informed Ralph of a test that was being conducted. This test breached a contract between the clients (the government) and SuperCom. However, this new test is cheaper, and is just as effective as the test specified in the contract. It also didn’t harm anyone in the public. After advising his managers of this breach, SuperCom decided to keep going with this improved test. Ralph decided to leave the company, signing an nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with SuperCom for his severance pay. Three years later, SuperCom was prosecuted for breaching the contract. Ralph cooperated with the prosecutor, going against his NDA. However, Ralph was still prosecuted, as he led the department at the time.
Was there anything Ralph could have done? Was SuperCom at fault?
Was Ralph at fault?
Ralph faced a dilemma due to his integrity and respect for the law. He left the company to get away from the predicament but went on to sign a NDA. The severance pay is presumed to conceal the contract breach from the public which contradicts to his honesty and ethics. However, it is pertinent to note that he needs that pay for living and independence.
Ralph could have done something differently though. As someone who has considerable expertise in the technology, he could have proposed a cheaper way to conduct the initially agreed-upon test. This could make up for the financial concern of the company. However, this can be disputed because it is not his responsibility to go that far by himself as it will anger his superiors by bypassing them. In contrast, from the utilitarian perspective, SuperCom is actually able to do more than what Ralph is capable of in terms of legal expertise.
Additionally, he could have consulted the company’s legal department for insights and alternatives to remedy the problem or simply confer the seriousness and severe repercussions it could cause to his superiors. Although it is not unusual to presume that this action might be menacing to many parties; as a manager with extensive credibility, it is for him to uphold to avoid deceptive acts, to take steps to prevent corrupt practices or professional misconduct, and declare conflicts of interest.
The other alternative would be for Ralph to whistle-blow, which will absolve him from being charged with complicity. This then should have spared him thousands of dollars in the court process. However, this would most probably cost him his job and his reputation. As this still appears disputable, deontologically, it is not his duty to accomplish the action especially not without the knowledge of his superiors. Besides that, it is unfair for him as he will need to take on a huge burden. Despite that, it is of his intellectual virtue to put his vast experience and expertise to good use as this action is potentially remedial to the issue.
In short, simply leaving the company didn’t solve anything. Instead, he should have proceeded with an action that would have been beneficial to all parties involved
Was SuperCom wrong?
By initially breaching the contract, SuperCom is definitely at wrong here. They did not rework the contract, even after they were informed by Ralph. The question, therefore, is could they have done anything else? The details of their location are unclear, but in general, contract modification is generally accepted as impossible unless all parties agree to the change. Whether or not SuperCom contacted the government to change this is unconfirmed.
Regardless, was it wrong of SuperCom to assume no wrongdoing in this circumstance? By using an effectiveness argument, we can contend that the shorter, cheaper test is as efficient as the agreed, contractual test, with no adverse effects to public health or safety. So what is the harm?
Undeniably, there is an economic argument that can be made. By doing the cheaper test, SuperCom stands to save money. The amount of money is not quantified, but an assumption can be made that the amount is big, as there is little chance that SuperCom will undertake this risk of contract breach without a big payoff. Recent studies (1984-2007) suggest that there is a relationship between private military companies and corruption, demonstrating a possibility of greed.
There are a few options available for the company. The most obvious will be submitting a contract review to consider the changes, which is common in manufacturing and construction. This allows the company to conduct the simplified test legally. However, this might cause deduction to the contract sum. Doing a contract review is simply common sense, but from a utilitarian standpoint, the company will lose profit from essentially giving the client what they want, making it a bad decision.
Otherwise, the company should follow the initially agreed contract until the renewal time, which is a suitable platform to put forward the new test. If conducting the initially agreed test leads to profit loss, they can submit a cost revaluation to access the cost of the test for the remaining period before the end of the contract. From a deontological point of view, this is the best action considering that a company objective is to make a profit. Professionally, this allows the company to declare conflicts and prevent any misconduct.
Besides that, the company can also appoint their engineers to increase the effectiveness of the initial test, but still comply with the contracts’ specification. This will be a better option rather than totally amending the agreed test conduct. However, it is common sense not to improve the old test because the new one is just as effective. It also obeys virtue theory, as it complies with the contract.
These arguments suggest that SuperCom should have just acted on Ralph’s initial suggestion, making them wrong. However, as engineering students, this case is a good reminder that running away may not be enough to solve a problem.
43: Muhammad Dell, Hakim Zulbahari, Xin Yan Ching, Rohan Philip, Muhammad Farid, Muhammad Khosim