OK, here is the starting point. Someone breaks the law and they need to be punished. Sounds good. Someone misuses government money and is penalized. Still sounds good.
Big Brothers Big Sisters pays a $1.6 million penalty to the federal government. Makes me feel at least a little sick. Every dollar they lose means some child who needs a guide and a mentor doesn’t get one.
We need to go past mere numbers and concepts and think about people for a minute. I don’t want even one child to miss out on this important experience. How many children will miss out with a $1.6 million penalty? You can’t really get your arms around this one until you can picture a little one who is alone because there is no money for a Big Brother or Big Sister.
What is my point?
“Tough on crime” and imposing fines on big organizations sounds really cool, until you see how it works out.
This is why my professional interest is not on how to impose bigger and bigger fines. It has always been on how we prevent misconduct in the first place.
Fining social institutions is about as dysfunctional as our legal system can get. I certainly agree with requiring this entity to have strong controls and ensuring it follows the law.
If individuals broke the law, go get them.
But fining organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters is never going to be the simple answer its proponents claim it will be.
Joe Murphy is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional and author of 501 Ideas for Your Compliance and Ethics Program: Lessons from 30 Years of Practice (SCCE; 2008). He was co-founder and vice-chairman of the board of Integrity Interactive Corporation (now part of SAI Global). He serves on the board of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE). He can be contacted here.