Can a state agency or Dept. operate ethically?

Posted by  $  Dobrien 9 months, 2 weeks ago to Philosophy
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Since built the Oroville Dam has never had a comprehensive review of its design or construction. An independent review determined
that the concrete was not up to standards and the design had serious flaws for the spillway and this would have not been detected by physical inspections as important as those are.
The owners of the dam are said to be ethically responsible.

The independent team wrote that regulators are important in managing dam safety, but they do not have all the resources nor the primary responsibility to do so.

"That responsibility, both ethically and legally, rests with dam owners," the report says.

The California Department of Water Resources owns the Oroville Dam.
Can a state agency operate ethically?

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  • Posted by  $  Susanne 9 months, 1 week ago
    I have to agree with what Allo said... the ethics are a result of not just the organization (governmental OR private), but of each individual in it. As someone who has been a "governmental employee " at a huge state agency here in the people's republic of California, I know we have alleged strong ethical governance documents and policies, and were these followed our customers, employees, and culture would be second to none... but I know from first hand observation over the past few decades that while it all looks good on paper, the reality is that, because of the UNWRITTEN you scratch my back I scratch yours, "good ol boy" network deeply embedded within the department, where the reality is in many cases diametrically opposed by a substantial number of employees to the official policy with a wink and a nod, the ACTUAL ethics are far different than what the OFFICIAL ethics of the department.

    When you have things like the dam(n) disaster, the current lawsuit in CDCR where a transgender guard is harassed, threatened, and put in danger, and instead of following their own policy of ethical and fair employment they came out with an official statement denying what everyone knows what happened (with written and physical evidence) everyone is winking, nodding, and hoping instead of following the law and their own policy they're still playing the discrimination against women, minorities and sexual orientation or gender as if it were the 1950's, knowing their real culture of hush hush will protect the offenders.

    An organizations REAL ethics aren't what's written on a piece of paper or parroted in official meetings but depends instead on the employees of that org. When your employees decide to act in a way opposite to whatever "official dictum" there is, and is allowed to continue, those acts become the actual ethics of the company or department, no matter what the cutesy posters say.

    An agency CAN be ethical, but it takes guts of those in charge to make ethics stick and oust the unethical instead of perpetuating the culture of fear and silence to protect each other.
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  • Posted by  $  allosaur 9 months, 1 week ago
    A state agency or a department is only as good as the people who are in it. Unfortunately, that's gonna be pretty much a mixed bag.
    Career bureaucrats will always say they put the public safety first~but y'all listen up to me dino the retired corrections officer, who was employed by a state department for 21 years.
    Some, not all, ambitious administrators think very much like career RINOs, who put feathering their own nest first, foremost and above all.
    Should some heads roll to help with their lowdown climb up the ladder, so be it.
    Me dino saw the good, the unscrupulous and the inept come and go.
    The good 'uns still provide some fond memories, such as the warden who came down the cell block hall with a big stick in his hand when yours truly got himself into a spot of bother.
    Another good 'un was a female captain, who had her own way of watching everybody's back. Heard she's the warden now.
    That has to be good for my former coworkers still there. A dithering doofus was running things when I left.
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    • Posted by  $  9 months, 1 week ago
      Thanks for you input.
      In cases when too many people are involved with different motivations and that don't have proper knowledge of details , the ethical
      aspect of a decision or directive is diluted.
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  • Posted by  $  Olduglycarl 9 months, 2 weeks ago
    Seems to me that if the "regulators" sign off and the building inspectors sign off then they too should be held accountable but I question: What were the standards and regulations at the time the Dam was built? Are the same as they would be today?

    Something to think about.
    As for "Ethics" None would be higher than mine because it is all encompassing, (integrated) which is concept foreign to governments and union contractors.
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    • Posted by  $  9 months, 2 weeks ago
      Hi OUC,
      Can't agree with you more on your ethics vs an organization or agency.
      Regarding standards and regulations the failure is in part attributed the cement not being Thick enough in spots.
      From the report :the team said "the spillway failure at Oroville was likely caused by long-standing problems with cracks in the concrete and a faulty drainage system underneath the concrete chute that was too thin in places."
      Todays standards mentioned.

      The panel called on regulators to supplement visual checks with painstaking reviews of original design and construction specifications, as well as maintenance records, with an eye toward finding “design shortcomings” that contrast with current state-of-the-art practices. The reviews should go beyond spillways and take in the entire dam structure, it said.

      The chain of command and budgets provided for safety and maintenance let alone review of construction methods takes ethics out of the equation,
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  • Posted by chad 9 months, 1 week ago
    Interesting conjecture that it is thought that state inspectors should be responsible. The state demands the right and the right to charge to inspect and suspend an ongoing job but if the building fails because of something the state approved they are never responsible. The behavior of an authoritarian entity will always tell you what they are and what is important to them. What I observe is important is the state's ability to collect money and dodge responsibility and avoid following the rules when it is convenient to them. Are they trustworthy? No. When a state agency builds its on products they often cut corners that they would put a stop order on. When the twin towers were built less fire prevention was allowed than what is required of any private builder because they didn't think they needed it. It would not have stopped the fires, perhaps it could have slowed them enough that others could have escaped. Of course there is no way to know for certain if the results would have been different. The state's ethics always seems to be less than what is expected of its slaves.
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    • Posted by  $  9 months, 1 week ago
      Gov Moonbeam initially wanted all of this shielded from the public and only caved after the public outcry ...hmmmm.

      But then since the oroviile Dam incident state officials quietly inserted a provision into a budget ... under seal, through a provision that makes secret “critical energy infrastructure information.”.
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  • Posted by ProfChuck 9 months, 1 week ago
    Its a question of motivation and incentive. What is the incentive for public "servants" to behave ethically?
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    • Posted by  $  nickursis 9 months, 1 week ago
      Here, I like the Star Trek Worf idea of "Honor". The Klingon code of Honor works on many levels, but is ethically sound, for them, and that is explored on many episodes of STNG and DS9. It goes back to a mystical idea of not being able to enter Stovakar if you did not have Honor. We used to have a strong religious ethic that permeated our society and drove a form of Honor, and people were generally good, kind people. It gave a structure and a penalty for non compliance. Today, it either takes a strong lesson in philosophy that is based on a positive ethic and value set, or you get the loons that abuse animals, kill people, or behave like aholes (driving, anyone?). No structure= No Honor= No "good" behavhior.
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  • Posted by Storo 9 months, 1 week ago
    I formerly worked as a State inspector in the design and construction of hospitals and other medical facilities.
    What I can tell you from my experience is that for the most part, ethics has little to do with it. Inspectors and managers in this agency worked very hard at getting things "right", and "helping" clients understand requirements.
    Most agencies set up to inspect or oversee design and/or construction of facilities are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work. In my agency, we held up projects frequently - some for a year or more - to make sure the designers, owners, and builders got it right. The frustration felt by the Owners, especially those who had large investments at stake, was massive, and understandable. The state legislature ultimately passed a law telling the agency that we had 90 days from submission of a project to approve it, or disapprove it and give the reasons it was disapproved. Lack of action within 90 days resulted in de facto approval.
    We could also hold up a project at any point during construction, or at the end of construction by refusing to sign off on a Certificate of Occupancy until certain issues were addressed to our satisfaction. This happened frequently as well, again to the great frustration of those involved.
    What I experienced was that the Building Codes are extremely complex and themselves overwhelming. Couple that with the sometimes extensive and complicated regulations issued by States or the Federal Government, and you have a recipe for long delays, overly expensive solutions, and a huge room for error.
    Failure to miss something in a structure or building project like a dam is not an indication of unethical practice. Under the conditions described above, with complex Codes and regulations, and arbitrarily imposed deadlines, it is easy to understand how something can be missed. Judging those who reviewed the plans, or inspected the dam some 50 years ago by today's standards is unreasonable and unfair. After all, many changes in Codes and requirements are made as the result of disasters like the dam spillway collapse. Hindsight is 20/20. Anything built so long ago can be characterized as a design that doesn't meet today's standards. But ethics, in my opinion, has nothing to do with it.
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  • Posted by DrZarkov99 9 months, 1 week ago
    The principle of "sovereign immunity" aimed at protecting government bureaucrats from being inundated by crippling lawsuits for official acts has been sorely abused. We hold corporate entities legally responsible for violations of labor, public safety, and fiscal responsibility, and should do the same for government bureaucracies.

    The Denver Post, not a bastion of conservative thinking, recently praised the new EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt for reopening the case of the spill of toxic mining waste into the Colorado river. That act of incompetence was performed by the Obama EPA, which claimed sovereign immunity and refused to entertain responsibility for one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history. Pruitt has informed damage claimants in Colorado and New Mexico to refile their claims, and has said his EPA will be responsible to honor those claims. That is one case of ethical behavior.
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    • Posted by  $  CBJ 9 months, 1 week ago
      Ethical behavior? Colorado and New Mexico helped elect Obama both in 2008 and 2012. Before Trump's EPA forces taxpayers nationwide to pay for the malfeasance of Obama's EPA, it should deny any claims from those who voted for Obama on the grounds that they got what they voted for.
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  • Posted by  $  Snezzy 9 months, 1 week ago
    The necessity is objective ethics. There need to be sufficient ethical individuals who are in positions of power, so that the producers and the protective forces all function ethically.

    My wife has worked as a quality engineer, sometimes in positions where Federal regulations determined the standards. It was very convenient for the QA inspector to be able to say, "Sorry, we cannot ship the product. It does not meet FDA specifications." Corporate standards and policies are often more flexible than the FDA specs. One corporate bigwig told a customer, "Yes, we know we had a problem with bad quality, but we've fixed that. We fired the quality inspector."

    The ethical individual can go along with an organization's rot, or can stand up against it. He can be fired, or can quit.

    Galt quit, and then went out to convince others of the validity of individual ethics, of the virtue of selfishness.
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  • Posted by  $  Abaco 9 months, 1 week ago
    Old design. Insufficient maintenance. Organizational apathy. Everybody keeps their retirements...

    I know more about this than I'm mentioning here...
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  • Posted by  $  blarman 9 months, 1 week ago
    Ethics are individual. In order for a group of people to act ethically, they must share the same ethics and act accordingly. The problem is that in California, the ethics which have been adopted by (or forced on) the individuals working in a government capacity aren't sound ethics, they are ethics which are momentary and all about the instant. Thus down the road, those decisions come back to bite them.
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  • Posted by  $  nickursis 9 months, 1 week ago
    I would say no, simply from the perspective that you have to have a standar, acceptable set of ethics that correspond to a moral framework. No such condition exists today in our country. Look at the hate and discontent that is brewing over DACA, an illegal order given by an illegal vehicle, yet all those who either philosophically or morally agree with it, will say is legal. They will argue until the cows come home, and their strongest defense is that it was never found illegal by SCOTUS (because they deadlocked 4:4 on political grounds, revealing that the great arbiter of law is as poisoned as the system). "Business Leaders" are now all up in arms over it, claiming it is "immoral", yet they have no business being involved with it, except it removes a source of cheap labor (but wait, how can they work in the country illegally?), or they have people in their companies that are ethnically linked to it. The idea of ethics died probably 60 years ago, and we have been playing with smoke and mirrors ever since and the smoke is dissipating and showing us the ugly reality below. If it suits their purpose, it is a noble thing, if it doesn't it is evil, that is ethics today. Ethically speaking though, their statement is true, if I have a tree fall in the neighbors yard and crash his house, I am ethically and legally liable, too bad politics and social order cannot be so clear cut and simple.
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  • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 9 months, 2 weeks ago
    If you mean this report from the link in the KCRA story -- -- the word "substandard" does not appear. If you read the report, you can draw that conclusion, if you know what the standards are. They do note that the aggregate was large, but you need to know how concrete is made to understand what that means.

    Hindsight is always 20-20. When you have a failure, you can go back and find the nodes. It is not so easy in the design phase.

    As for the deeper questions, I point to "Power and Market." If a decision is made politically, then it is metaphysically suboptimal, in the context of economics. Among the basic problems with that, the reductio ad absurdum, is that the Mafia is a police agency run for a profit, which is not what we are looking for in community policing. Also, the basic ethical questions would lead to the imprisonment or execution of jurors who wrongfully convict.

    To answer your question simply: Yes.

    One argument for cultural diversity which is supported by studies is that when your board is culturally diverse, they might not agree on the right thing to do, but they will agree on the action not to carry out because it is wrong from everyone's perspective.
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    • Posted by  $  nickursis 9 months, 1 week ago
      MIke, I would disagree, and cite the example of the Morton Thiokol engineer who knew the booster seals on the shuttle were flawed, had said so several times and was shut down and threatened by the company if he told NASA. That was etically and morally wrong on many levels, knowingly putting people at risk for profit. Yet, that has happened numerous times with many products, thalidimide for one. The real issue, and it is not clear at all, was what tests, models, known design tools, were used, and who did how much where. The report also states that dam manager have the responsibility, but that they lack the resources and responsibility to do so, which may be true.
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      • Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 9 months, 1 week ago
        The "board" (engineering management) at Morton Thiokol was not culturally diverse. That was why they were ruled by groupthink. No one could see things differently. The one guy who could was not at that level: he was not invested with power.

        As for the case of the dam, dams are complicated on many levels and there's lots of them. Some will fail under stress. Then, we can go back and blame people and condemn institutions, all of them individually and severally for being immoral. The thing is with the Strength of Materials equations, time is not a factor. Something either fails or it does not. S = sE, Stress = strain * modulus of Elasticity. That modulus is empirically derived for each and every material. It looks like science but it is an art.
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        • Posted by  $  nickursis 9 months, 1 week ago
          Indeed that is correct, however, I would still say that the jury is out on the Dam, if only because the full facts have yet to ever be published, and in an unadulterated form. Should it ever be proven they knew the rock strata was not conducive, or was not properly compensated for, there would certainly be an ethical issue there. Also the question is focusing on an agency or department, so I do not know in Kalifornia where they exactly break their lines. There are a LOT of managers there, which is another ethical issue in itself.
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