The Best Interest for All Concerned

Engineer A is the newest member of an environmental engineering firm in a small southwestern city. The firm is the newest and smallest in the city and has difficulty obtaining work. The situation has become so desperate that the company is struggling for survival and has been extending itself beyond its resources to avoid layoffs. The other firms are not hiring, and given the seniority policy of the company. Engineer A realizes he would be the first to be laid off.

Being new to the area, Engineer A is appalled at the dismal sanity conditions in some of the poorer parts of the city, especially the absence of a sewerage system. The failed seepage fields of the on-site wastewater disposal systems are clearly creating a public health hazard. Much of the outlying region depends on groundwater for a drinking water supply, and Engineer A recognizes that the groundwater is being steadily and irreversibly polluted by the inadequate waste disposal.

The city is now considering installing a sewerage system in the poorer neighbourhoods, and Engineer A is asked to write a technical and cost proposal for the firm in response to the city’s request for proposals. After submitting the draft to the firm’s president, Engineer A is called into the President’s office, where he was told to cut his proposal by roughly $300,000.

Engineer A refused saying that the cost was the absolute minimum. The President reveals that he had spoken to the mayor, who is currently in the last stages of his campaign for reelection. The mayor needs funds in order to bring out the votes. The mayor’s opponent has been opposed to the sewerage system because, he says, building and maintaining it would necessitate an increase in city taxes. The timing is critical. Whoever wins will decide on the project.

The President reveals that after much painful thought he has privately arranged for a large contribution to reach the mayor’s campaign fund. In exchange, the mayor has instructed the President how to write the proposal so it will be accepted by the city board with no challenge. Both the mayor and President know there will be cost overruns after the project has begun, but they have agreed to a mechanism for covering these additional costs. The mayor knows that if the firm does the project, it will be done well and will not cost the city much more than if one of the firms handles it. The mayor also strongly believes the city is better off with as many engineering firms as possible, and thus wants to see the firm stays in business.

The President also reiterates that if Engineer A refuses to alter the proposal, he is prepared to do it himself. If the firm does not get the contract, there is every reason to believe not only that Engineer A will lose his job, but that the firm will soon go out of business. If the incumbent mayor loses, there will be no sewerage system at all and the deplorable environmental conditions will continue.

Should Engineer A go along with the plan and revise the proposal? Discuss on the ethical issues involved.

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