Government secrecy a no-win policy: CEO cites Enron and Union Carbide as examples of how misleading employees and the public backfires

By Richard Martin, 5-05-06
Frontier Airlines chairman Samuel Addoms (whose name makes me thirsty for a refreshing malt beverage) had some advice for Denver-area high school students yesterday.
Addoms, whose airline has thrived and expanded by offering good service aboard relatively new aircraft, told a crowd of students at the 2006 Colorado Business Show, sponsored by the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, “Don’t have any secrets.”
That’s advice that the Bush-Cheney administration would have been wise to have followed about, oh, five years ago.
Addoms was joined on the panel by two of Colorado’s star entrepreneurs: Crocs co- founder Lyndon “Duke” Hanson and Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. Between them, these three companies generated $1.7 billion in revenues last year. Explaining his remarkably simple formula for business success, Addoms explained to the teenagers, “The effect is rather stunning. You eliminate the ruling class of an organization,” i.e., the holders of privileged information, and you co-opt what Addoms called “the CIA” — employees who spend way too much time ferreting out corporate secrets. “What’s left over, they spend doing something useful.”
These remarks bring immediately to mind the secrecy-obsessed cabal that currently hangs upside down from the rafters of the White House and other centers of power in our nation’s capital. As Jack Shafer, press critic for Slate magazine, pointed out in a column earlier this week, the administration’s relentless quest to shed darkness on what should be public information has turned out to be self-defeating: the permanent class of the Washington bureaucracy (i.e., those who are not beholden to George Bush or Dick Cheney for their livelihoods) has revolted, resulting in “blockbuster stories about Bush’s secret prisons, secret torture programs, secret rendition operation, warrantless wiretaps, and so on.”
“The government has planted the seeds of its own undoing,” Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a non-governmental organization that works to collect and disseminate information relating to the federal government and national security, tells Shafer. “If you’re going to decertify the press, you must also cut off alternative information sources.”
That, it turns out, is not so easy to do, even for such a tight-assed group as Bush’s White House. (It doesn’t help, of course, when it turns out that your own rules against pushing sensitive info to the press through back channels don’t apply to the Leaker-in-Chief.)
The companies that have discovered, to their sorrow, that misleading employees and the public almost inevitably backfires range from Enron to Qwest to Union Carbide. It’s too bad that our current government is clearly incapable of learning that lesson.

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