StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective – Creating Event Certainty, part 1 of 3

With the ill-fated British Petroleum (BP) oil rig continuing to release vast amounts of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, it has now come to light that the United States government, focused on taking over vast portions of the American economy, was negligent in performing its rightful oversight role. A recent report by The New York Times indicated the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) “gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species – and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.” 1 And while MMS is charged with enforcing safety regulations and collecting drilling lease and royalty fees, a 2008 probe by U.S. Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney “found MMS employees had sex with and accepted gifts from industry contacts while failing to collect almost $200 million due from energy companies.” 2

Let’s face it; government regulators are not the only the only ones who get too cozy with those they provide oversight for. Accounting firm Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice for their role in helping conceal financial report mischaracterizations by its client, Enron.3 Similarly, the nuclear industry created oversight organization, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), has either failed to identify audited plant performance issues and effectively communicate them or evaluated utilities inadequately acted on INPO’s findings; necessitating ‘last line of defense’ action by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as was the case at Arizona Public Service’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.4 In INPO’s case, its Board of Directors – those who set INPO’s executive salaries and the Institute’s budget – is comprised of nuclear utility Chief Executive Officers, the leaders of the organizations INPO is to independently assess.5 Note that APS’s CEO was INPO’s Chairman of the Board in 2005 during the onset of his plant’s recent performance decline.5, 6

Company leaders should not rely solely on government, consultant, and industry organizations to identify their risks; they and their workforce must actively assess their own performance to find those conditions, methods, and cultures that expose their organization to adverse outcomes. Several years ago, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission found that Nabors Drilling, a subcontractor to BP, falsified blowout preventer test results on one of its Alaska oil rigs. One individual interviewed during the investigation alleged BP officials were aware of the practice but did nothing to prevent it.7 Given a blowout preventer failed to operate properly during the ongoing Gulf oil spill event – resulting in a significant release of crude oil to the environment – it is certain that BP and its vendors and contractors will be investigated for their operations, maintenance, and testing practices; this time with the whole world watching.

StrategyDriven Recommended Practices

These events represent a failure to recognize and/or appropriately response to risks. Some of these cases represent a conflict of interest: sexual favors, gift giving, and direct compensation and bonus awards; others an inadequate significance assignment or an ineffective response to findings. They also highlight the existence of unnecessary uncertainty associated with ineffective risk management systems. Because every organization faces risks, how then can unnecessary uncertainty be recognized such that risks are minimized, mitigated, transferred, and/or avoided? What of the unnecessary risk presented by the operations of those companies monitored by those regulators and auditors having a history of performance lapses or others that are structured and/or rewarded in a way that might breed a conflict of interest?

Assessment Practices – Recognizing Risks

  1. Don’t rely on a single auditor or audit organization. Relying on only one mechanism to identify issues leaves the conflict of interest risk unaddressed. Without redundant oversight groups, bias or ineptness on the part of the singular assessor will leave the organization fully exposed in that area. Not every aspect of performance warrants redundant assessment. Only those areas presenting high or catastrophic risk to the organization should be considered for this added expense.
  2. Create a culture that values constructive criticism as a vital part of organizational learning and growth. If executives, managers, and employees truly embrace constructive feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve, then the organization itself will identify many of its shortfalls. However, some shortcomings may be outside of the workforce’s collective experience and so actions 1 and 4 still apply.
  3. Protect internal assessors from abusive feedback and retribution (if needed). Organizations not having a learning culture often blame the messenger for identified performance shortfalls. In these cases, it is important to senior leaders to provide cover for assessors until such a culture has been developed.
  4. Engage truly independent assessors in the performance evaluation process. Independent assessors as highlighted in both StrategyDriven Strategic Analysis Best Practice 4 – Independent Assessors and StrategyDriven Podcast Episode 15 – Independent Assessors provide a unique, less biased perspective on the organization’s performance and are therefore more likely to identify value adding opportunities. This occurs because the independent assessors are not unduly influenced by the organization’s history and shared culture, they have less fear of retribution and adverse career impact, and if well selected possess knowledge and experience in areas outside that of the organization’s workforce.
  5. Use quantifiable information to the extent possible during assessments. Basing assessment findings on quantifiably observable facts helps eliminate subjectivity and opinion from the evaluation’s findings; making it more acceptable to the assessed organization.
  6. Assess performance against best practice and/or ideal performance; defining performance standards ahead of the assessment. Establishing and communicating the standards by which the organization’s performance will be assessed makes the results more quantifiable and therefore more accepted as well as providing a progress measure for improvement initiatives.
  7. Actively monitor the publicly available regulatory and audit reports of other companies. Treat the risks posed by other organizations no differently than you would those of direct marketplace competitors. Monitor these businesses’ activities for signs of undesired activities or results.
  8. Identify and measure marketplace factors that indicate if the performance of other organizations represents a potentially adverse risk to your company. Not all adverse impacts will be realized through direct interaction with this high risk companies. Some impacts may be transferred via suppliers/vendors and customers. Therefore, it is important to understand and monitor the overall marketplace environment.
  9. Engage with the leaders of these organizations in public and private forums to identify and, as necessary, mitigate risks. If another, non-competitor organization presents a real risk to your company’s operations, communicate that risk to that organization’s leaders and work with them to minimize that risk. A good offense, with the spirit of goodwill and partnership, is sometimes the best defense.

Additional Resources

StrategyDriven best practices (and warning flags) regarding the practices associated with the identification of organizational risks can be found in our Strategic Analysis and Self Assessment Program topic areas.

Final Thoughts…

Enterprise risk management (ERM) is a critical component of an organization’s strategy to mitigate, transfer, and avoid the adverse impacts of undesired events. The recommendations provided within this editorial focus on the assessment activities associated with ERM and represent all those activities that are in our view the several critical actions organizations should take to identify potential adverse events that naturally occur as a part of doing business. It has been our experience that the cost of incident prevention far outweighs the cost of incident recovery. While it is sometimes difficult to justify the expense for preventative action, one only has to look at the cost in life and property of recent industrial accidents to know this cost is truly worthwhile.

Lastly, we identified four organizations – the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Mineral Management Service, Arthur Andersen, the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, and British Petroleum – as having had performance shortfalls documented in the public domain. In fairness to the dedicated individuals employed by these organizations, many companies and the public have benefited from their well-intentioned oversight efforts. StrategyDriven believes that reforms, both within these organizations and those they serve, are needed to further reduce the likelihood that future catastrophic failure injures the public, employees, shareholders, other stakeholders (vendors, suppliers, and consumers), and the environment.

Final Request…

StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective PodcastThe strength in our community grows with the additional insights brought by our expanding member base. Please consider rating us and sharing your perspectives regarding the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective podcast on iTunes by clicking here. Sharing your thoughts improves our ranking and helps us attract new listeners which, in turn, helps us grow our community.

Thank you again for listening to the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective podcast!


  1. “U.S. Said to Allow Drilling Without Needed Permits,” Ian Urbina, The New York Times, May 13, 2010 (
  2. “Oil-Spill Agency Fetches $13 Billion Amid ‘Cozy Ties,” Jim Efstathiou Jr., Bloomberg-Businessweek, May 16, 2010 (
  3. “Called to Account,” Cathy Booth Thomas, Time, June 18, 2002 (,8599,263006,00.html)
  4. “Palo Verde Performance Improvement Plans,” David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists, January 11, 2008(
  5. “INPO Overview,” Clair Goddard, Institute o Nuclear Power Operations, March 2005 (
  6. “Annual Assessment Letter – Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (NRC Inspection Report 05000528/2006001; 05000529/2006001; 05000530/2006001),” US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 2, 2006 (
  7. “Whistleblower Claims That BP Was Aware Of Cheating On Blowout Preventer Tests,” Marcus Baram, The Huffington Post, May 13, 2010 (

StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective – Government as Owner and Regulator: The Ultimate Conflict of Interest

What would it be like to have the ultimate home court advantage? How about:

  • Defining the rules of the game;
  • Changing the rules of the game, in your favor of course, at any time after the game has started;
  • Refereeing the game and being allowed to choose when and when not to penalize your team for rules violations;
  • Enticingly recruiting the opponents best players; and
  • Examining the other teams’ playbooks, trade secrets, and other confidential materials on demand?

That’s not just a home court advantage, it’s cheating – and in the business world there exists laws against such behavior… or does there?

Anti-trust laws and regulatory agencies overseeing monopoly businesses prevent any one company from gaining such significant market dominance as to create an unfair competitive advantage and establishing conditions of consumer vulnerability. Other laws, most notably the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, establish separation between auditors and the audited to eliminate conflicts of interest.

Recent bailouts by the U.S. government created an imbalance in the marketplace; introducing a ‘super competitor’ who is business owner, rule maker, and law enforcer. This ‘super competitor’ has no marketplace rival with even a fraction of its power and no immediate oversight as ballot box accountability occurs in only two year increments. As executives from Goldman Sachs learned, having had to sit through the U.S. Senate’s berating and vulgarities, there is little defense to be made once government officials have decided to target your organization.

As business owners, government officials act to further their companies’ goals; the problem is they have demonstrated a propensity to further their political interests as well. While at the center of the U.S. economic meltdown of 2008, poor business practices by mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now owned by the U.S. government, are not addressed by the proposed financial markets regulatory bill being considered by Congress.1 And this is not be the first time Fannie Mae appears to have benefited from Congressional favoritism.2

StrategyDriven Recommended Practices

The conflict of interest created by the government’s entry into the marketplace is not likely to end soon. Therefore, StrategyDriven recommends organization leaders take the following actions:

  • Always behave ethically and promote ethical behavior among your employees. The best way to avoid government scrutiny is to not place yourself or your organization in a position of question. Ask yourself… How would this read on the front page of The New York Times? or Would I be proud to tell my mother I did this?
  • Respond to legitimate, legal government/regulatory requests for information; providing only what is asked for in a clear, concise, and truthful manner. Providing government officials with information they are either not entitled to or that is extraneous invites further questioning and scrutiny. This presents officials seeking a diversion from their own political ills an avenue to shift the public’s attention to you and your business; inappropriately if you and your organization have behaved ethically.
  • Establish an email content policy. Business email systems should be used for business purposes only – not for personal communications. Additionally, if emails are written for only business purposes, then they should only contain business appropriate language – no vulgarities.
  • Create an email/document retention and destruction policy. Some emails/documents must be retained for legal purposes; others for business reasons. Emails/documents not having a legitimate retention need should be destroyed within an appropriate timeframe.
  • Act quickly to restrict departing employee access to email, files, and records and quarantine their business materials particularly if they are joining a competitor or the government. This practice is unfortunate but necessary. As a corporate leader, it is your responsibility to protect your organization’s intellectual property and confidential materials as well as that of your clients and suppliers. Now that the government is a competitor and regulator, those going into government service represent a real business risk as government officials have demonstrated a propensity to act in both the interest of government companies and their political careers.
  • Don’t accept government bailout money. Companies accepting government funding become beholden to politicians whose goals and ambitions may not align with that of the business or its shareholders. Avoid the conflict of interest by not allowing it to exist in the first place.

None of these recommendations should be construed as a suggestion to avoid legal requirements or ethical behavior. Rather, they are recommendations to comply with the letter and intent of the law and to act with the utmost integrity. What we are suggesting is that action going beyond compliance or showing generosity toward the ‘super competitor’ U.S. government is unwarranted and should be avoided.

Final Thought…

The purpose of this editorial is to highlight actions executives and managers should take in this era of heightened government business ownership and marketplace participation rather than debate the unfortunate and often inappropriate actions of those responsible for these circumstances. StrategyDriven does not condone the actions of Goldman Sachs leaders and employees. We are also disappointed by the unbecoming behavior exhibited by Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) during the Goldman Sachs hearings3 and the other seemingly inappropriate relationships between members of Congress and various financial institutions.

Final Request…

StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective PodcastThe strength in our community grows with the additional insights brought by our expanding member base. Please consider rating us and sharing your perspectives regarding the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective podcast on iTunes by clicking here. Sharing your thoughts improves our ranking and helps us attract new listeners which, in turn, helps us grow our community.

Thank you again for listening to the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective podcast!


  1. Senator Dodd’s Regulation Plan: 14 Fatal Flaws,” James Gattuso, The Heritage Foundation, April 22, 2010 (
  2. Lawmaker Accused of Fannie Mae Conflict of Interest,” Bill Sammon, Fox News, October 3, 2008 (,2933,432501,00.html)
  3. Video: Sen. Claire McCaskill Talks S**t to Goldman Sachs Execs,” Keegan Hamilton, Riverfront Times, April 28, 2010 (

StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective – Self Inflicted Uncertainty

On February 2, Dow Jones reported the Obama Administration’s decision not to expand the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve as had been provisioned under the Energy Act of 20051. Energy Secretary Steven Chu indicated the basis for the decision was that the current reserve of 727 million barrels of crude oil met international standards.

(The International Energy Agency established a 90 day crude oil reserve standard. Filled to capacity, the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve covers approximately 80 days of imports.)

At first glance, this decision may appear to be ill conceived. Rising oil consumption combined with no additional storage capacity suggests that the U.S. would fall short of meeting the IEA reserve standard with ever increasing severity. Closer examination of U.S. oil consumption relative to the volume of its strategic petroleum reserve indicates that relatively small projected growth in petroleum consumption in the next 20 years supports the decision2. (See Figure 1: U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve Compared to Consumption)
Read more

StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective – Believe None of What You Hear

StrategyDriven Editorial PerspectiveEver known a politician to renege on a campaign promise, say something misleading or simply just wrong?

So many politicians lie (we don’t mince words here… if our children told such stories we’d punish them for lying) that we accept it as a part of the political game. And members of both parties are guilty as charged. These falsehoods cause harmful uncertainty that can be detrimental to businesses and the economy because they diminish business leaders’ ability to project, strategize, plan, and execute.

Some of these falsehoods can be easily recognized and dealt with reasonably. No one really expected politicians to reveal their back room deals by televising healthcare negotiations on CSPAN. Likewise, we can read a lot of lips but know that bigger government requires higher taxes. aggressively identifies the factual errors politicians make; helping eliminate the uncertainty of their creative non-fiction.

Other falsehoods are not so easily dealt with. Businesses are hurt and significant uncertainty created when the government willfully breaches a contract. These are not broken campaign promises but legally binding agreements that those in power have decided not to abide by because the provisions have become politically unfavorable. Such breaches of integrity are materially harmful to businesses specifically and the economy and public in general.

Unnecessary Uncertainty in the U.S. Energy Market

Let’s briefly examine one government breach of contract in the clean energy market; a market vital to both national security and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Breach of Contract – National Spent Nuclear Fuel Repository

In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act; making the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) responsible for siting, building, and operating an underground disposal facility for high level radioactive waste, including the spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors.1 In 1987, Congress selected Yucca Mountain as the location where this underground repository would be built. The Yucca Mountain facility was to be constructed and to begin accepting waste by 1998. While nuclear reactor owners faithfully pay their dues to the government in support of the repository, Yucca Mountain is currently little more than an access tunnel bored into the side of a mountain.2

“I will continue to leverage my leadership position to prevent the dump from ever being built.”

Harry Reid
U.S. Senate Majority Leader
Nevada (D)

A 2007 statement on the continued pursuit of the Yucca Mountain project.3

In 2008, the DOE applied for a license to construct the Yucca Mountain repository by 2020, 22 years late.4 However, the Obama Administration announced in February 2010 that it would withdraw its application to build the repository. Energy Secretary Steven Chu emphasized that the withdrawal would be ‘with prejudice’ – a legal definition prohibiting resubmission by a post-Obama administration.5 Additionally, the Obama administration has announced that it will defund the Yucca Mountain repository project in its 2011 budget submission to Congress.6


Utilities involved have filed a total of 71 breach of contract lawsuits against the Federal Government. DOE estimates the government’s liability at $12.3 billion. Nuclear utilities estimate damages claims will total $50 billion. As of today, 51 of the 71 cases are pending in either the Claims or Federal Circuit Courts, 10 have been settled, 6 were voluntarily withdrawn and 4 have been litigated through a final non-appealable judgment.7

…there is, of course, the additional cost of litigation (courts, lawyers, etcetera).

In addition to the cost impacts, five states (Minnesota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky) currently prohibit construction of new nuclear plants in part because of a lack of a national spent fuel repository.8 This prevents communities in these states from realizing the benefits of the estimated 1400-1800 jobs created during the 4-5 year construction period and 400-700 workers needed to operate and maintain the plant thereafter.9 These numbers don’t account for the community services and business jobs created to support these individuals.

…there is, of course, the additional non-carbon emitting power these plants would provide the region.

Regardless of the arguments for and against the suitability of locating the spent nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, this case and the judgments against the Federal Government clearly illustrate a breach of contract that has created significant market uncertainty and damaged businesses.

StrategyDriven Recommended Practices

As the single largest consumer of goods and services within the U.S. economy, it would be virtually impossible, if not undesirable, to avoid doing business with the Federal Government. And even if direct business activity can be avoided, the effects of government interaction with other organizations cannot.

The politics of governing and the willingness of some politicians to renege on their campaign promises and/or government contracts require corporate leaders to take actions protecting their organization from this unnecessary risk. While not intended to be an all inclusive list, StrategyDriven recommends those contracting or subcontracting with government agencies take the following risk mitigation actions:

  • validate key government project assumptions and facts (timelines, resource availability/capacity, technologies, cost, existing regulatory structures, etcetera)
  • identify ‘political will’ risk drivers in government project assumptions
    • adjust risk estimates and associated contingency planning and funding accordingly
    • verify project popularity with the general public and the likelihood such popularity will be maintained for the term of the project
    • check for bipartisan project support
  • establish contingency plans for government project delays and cancellations
  • review government proposals against the past performance on similar projects
  • monitor progress on government projects just as you would internal projects

Final Thought…

We used the nuclear power industry example because of the already litigated breach of contract lawsuits clearly supporting our assertion that the federal government does not always fulfill its obligations. Because we don’t believe this example to be either an aberration or the last time such a breach will occur, we encourage the practices presented here to be applied in all dealings with Federal, State, and local governments.

Final Request…

The strength of our community grows with the additional insights brought by our expanding member base. Please consider voting for us on Podcast Alley by clicking here. Casting your vote for the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective Podcast improves our ranking and helps us attract new listeners which, in turn, helps us grow our community. Thank you again for listening to the StrategyDriven Editorial Perspective Podcast!


  1. The Nuclear Waste Program,” U.S. Department of Energy,
  2. The Washington Post’s distorted take on Yucca Mountain,” Hugh Gusterson, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 27, 2009,
  3. Yucca Problems Mount For DOE: Transportation, Costs, Not To Mention Congressional Opposition From Harry Reid,” Johnny Gunn, The Nevada Observer, March 15, 2007,
  4. The Washington Post’s distorted take on Yucca Mountain,” Hugh Gusterson, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 27, 2009,
  5. Yucca Mountain’s death just a few steps away,” Lisa Mascaro and Stephanie Tavares, Las Vegas Sun, February 2, 2010,
  6. Proposal would eliminate funding for Yucca Mountain,” Steve Tetreault, Las Vegas Review-Journal, February 1, 2010,
  7. Greenberg Traurig’s Jerry Stouck Discusses Nuclear Fuel Cases,” Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, September 25, 2009,
  8. Another Major Setback for “Nuclear Renaissance”: Industry Goes 0-6 in 2009 Efforts to Overturn State Bans on New Nuclear Reactors.,” Leslie Anderson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, August 27, 2009,
  9. Testimony for the Record [to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources],” Carol L. Berrigan, Director, Industry Infrastructure, Nuclear Energy Institute, November 6, 2007,