Lawful but awful

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has repeatedly said that his official travels by private jet – paid with taxpayers’ money – were permitted by the rules and duly approved.

Taxpayers are not moved. In one case, Price spent tens of thousands of dollars for a private flight when he could have taken a short train ride for less than a hundred dollars. After spending $300,000, he is now offering to reimburse $51,000. Again, not moved.

This highlights a problem with rules. When applied without an overlay of organizational values, they can lead to “lawful but awful” behaviors.

Rules answer the question “Can I?” Values answer the question “Should I?”

The Price situation is a reminder to all E&C professionals that people react differently to rules. Some see them as restrictions, others as permission. Our job is to consider both possibilities when we create them.

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