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Nov 24, 2008

Comments

Jeff

KSBR, the problem with your "analysis" is that at a fundamental level you fail to understand what ethical behavior is or to distinguish between the appearance of a conflict of interest, the actuality of a conflict of interest, and unethical conduct that exploits an actual conflict of interest. You worry about ethics, morality, veracity, and sensitivity to compromising situations, but the only evidence you ever give regards the last category. Blair didn't lie (as far as we know), and he previously recused himself from studies where he had larger financial interests, so I don't see how you could imply that he has a history of immorality. He doesn't appear to have used his position for financial gain, so I don't see how you could imply that he is unethical. I do agree that government-sponsored work should be absolutely free from even the appearance of conflicts of interest, although as a matter of practicality you do have to consider the scale of the conflict (is it a conflict to own $1000 in stock in a company that makes a single 50-cent chip for the F-22?). This is where Blair apparently made an error in judgment. I agree as a matter of principle that civil servants should be "above reproach," but as a matter of fact few people are truly "above reproach" or without mistakes in judgment, and that's why you have to consider the situation in context, not dumbly repeat that "it's unethical" without any clear understanding of how the behavior is unethical or how it relates to the person's conduct as a whole. The progression of your argument has been to state as a matter of fact that their was an ethical breach, refuse to explain why, refuse to counter refutations, appear to associate resignation with proof of guilt, try to switch tactics from "it's unethical" to "it's not good judgment" (as if those two were the same thing), create a tautology about someone who erred in judgment seriously enough to lose his position not being deserving of his position, and then more strongly repeat your unproven assertion of unethical behavior ("there is no question"!). This all represents quite weak analysis, and suggests to me that you are willing to accept any purported transgression that makes the newspapers as ironclad proof of a disqualifying ethical breach, without having any deep understanding of the situation (or apparently, of ethics) at all. I can't say it any more clearly.

Axel

I usually do not return to previous Articles. Although as I am highly honored from the POGO Articles and from Blog Comment replys, and as it is also unmistakably clear and convincing that at least and FIRST and FOREMOST our US Constitutional Democratic Bill of Rights Inalienable Rights that have seemingly been gradually absent for the recent decades and half century must be complied with the endeavors to be fully restored and most especially with the and again first and foremost immediate full floor US Legislative Vote and immediate passage and full and complete, proper and forthright implementation and RESTORATION!! of the 'FEDERAL EMPLOYEE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION RESTORATION ACT!!'.

KSBR repeating for the unconvinced

Jeff,
There is no question that he acted unethically--by his own actions and his own judgment.
We expect more from our civil servants. And he had to be convinced, by a bunch of people with names you might recognize, to leave IDA; he could not understand why there was controversy. He had a fine Naval career. He has our thanks. But we need a DNI above reproach who is not dumb and deaf to personal and organizational conflicts of interest. Overseeing officials on top of big acquisitions and being trusted with the most sensitive information (created out of differing views and constituencies) are a big part of his job. We do not want to worry about his ethics, morality, veracity, and sensivity to compromising situations. I can't say it any more clearly. And I can't understand why you don't get it, but that's not important right now [quote from Airplane]. Maybe Axel can elucidate.

Jeff

KSBR, you're reading an awful lot into one incident. It's a stretch to go from the EDO incident to Blair distorting or hiding information from the president of the United States in the so-called Bush administration model. Do you have any evidence that he has a history of providing advice like that? That's precisely why it's important to examine Blair's career in more detail as a whole, and why it matters whether or not he actually acted unethically.

KSBR umbraged

Jeff,
No offense, but the sentence structure in your last suggests you might be a struggling attorney (law student?) or have read too many "ethics made easy" guides. You need to lighten up, as well as simplify your writing style.
Someone in an extremely sensitive government position is entitled, really, to no mistakes of judgment that would protect him/her from being appointed in the first place or canned. Who was he to decide for himself that the "scale" of his conflict was permissible? Do you want that kind of self-permission to be active when he has information to prepare for the president? Or to keep from him, perhaps. Sounds like the current administration; we don't want to continue that way of doing the Nation's business. We'd do better to steer away from such people and situations. Let's find another candidate.

Jeff

KSBR, I reject your false dichotomy. As I said, what would have been unethical is if Blair had used his position to influence a report for financial gain. Absent evidence of such behavior, it is libelous to say that he acted unethically. The second part of your comment deals with whether Blair is ignorant of ethics. I would submit that he is not -- if you read the DoD IG report (linked on Blair's Wikipedia page), he resigned from Raytheon upon joining IDA because Raytheon's business overlapped strongly with studies done at IDA, and that he recused himself from two studies that he determined could impact the business of Tyco (the other corporation besides EDO where he was a board member). Blair's error was apparently in his self-determination that his link to EDO "was not of sufficient scale" to warrant recusal. Most conflict-of-interest policies specify that the subject's interest in the company must be substantial. Although it is debatable whether his link to EDO was of a significant scale (the DoD IG report does not make a definitive judgment but seems to characterize both EDO's role in the F-22 program and Blair's role in the IDA studies as being somewhat small), the real problem is that Blair's determination seems to have been at odds with his own company's conflict-of-interest policy. Note that being in violation of a conflict of interest policy does not imply that an actual conflict exists or that anyone acted unethically -- these policies are meant to ensure that even the appearance of a conflict of interest can arise, because it can be difficult to prove that no conflict occurred where one was possible. At any rate, Blair did not act in such a manner that removed all doubt of the possibility of a conflict of interest, which was against company policy. Again, this does not indicate any unethical behavior at all, just bad judgment when it came to heading of the appearance (or the actualization) of a conflict of interest, which is certainly not encouraging, but one should try to put it in the context of the rest of his career.

KSBR insistent

To Jeff on Nov 24:

Sorry, but we need people above reproach. Excusing this particular "error in judgment" means endorsing either (1) unethical values or (2) ignorance about such things. Let Blair go elsewhere. He should have known better and should not be learning the correct ethics and morality at his age after all of his experience.

Jeff

Mandy, you fail to distinguish between unethical conduct and a lack of political savvy. As far as I can tell from the DoD IG report, Blair did not act unethically. The real problem, as pointed out by the previous poster, is that Blair did not see how his decisions could create the appearance of a conflict of interest and perhaps the potential for a real conflict of interest. Furthermore, he did not seek the advice of IDA officials when determining whether a conflict of interest was present. This may be evidence of an error in judgment, but it is not unethical. It would have been unethical if he had used his position to influence the results of a study for financial gain.

KSBR supportive

I normally would eschew support for the POGO "four legs good, two legs bad" reaction to any contractor--because it is silly and unproductive--but you are right to flag Blair for this incident.
At the time, all of the FFRDCs were shocked by his mistake because it gave the lie to the FFRDCs' exaggerated claim that they, and not profit-making contractors, are above reproach.
But what was shocking was that he really had no sense he was creating the appearance, and the potential of a real, conflict of interest. He had to have it explained to him and he had to be nudged to resign, according to sources. No matter how admirable the admiral's service, all those years in the winking, towel-snapping environment of American flag officers would not give him the necessary sensitivity to the problem. Many flags just don't give a damn, but they do a poor job in emulating the cojones of, say, a MacArthur.
Blair really ought to be eliminated from consideration for this mistake. In any case, he is not as esteemed and experienced and utterly ethical as Mike McConnell. Surely there must be another good candidate.

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