July 1st, 2010
10:20 AM ET

Letter to the President #528: 'Release the Hounds!'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/06/28/tedx.oilspill.conference/t1larg.tedx.oil.spill.expedition.courtesy.jpg caption="The companies most often insisting that they need no oversight are often the ones that most emphatically do."]

Reporter's Note: President Obama is watching Congress inch toward some sort of reform regulation for the financial industry. But away from the Hill, some companies…notably one…are trying to pull the curtains on prying eyes, which is what I am writing about in today’s letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

So I read this story about how BP allegedly wants to shut down an ombudsman program (meaning an independent watchdog office) that was set up some years ago to investigate safety concerns from employees after some horrific accidents. Congress members pushed for it back then, but BP apparently thinks now it can handle these matters on its own; so “thanks, but you can call off the dogs.”

Forgive me if I say, “Ha!” Big business, and in particular this big business, does not seem to have a great record of policing itself. Oh sure, every company has all the right paperwork; stacks of shiny brochures and employee handbooks, and terabytes of computer graphics explaining how serious they are about safety, putting their employees first, letting no concern go unaddressed, and yadda, yadda, yadda. You and I know, however, that in an awful lot of places that is just talk.

Companies are in the primary business of making money, and I have no bone to pick with that. But when that goal becomes too dominant, in my experience, they often give painfully short shrift to all those other things they claim to care about… quality, safety, human decency, company softball leagues. And here is the key: The companies most often insisting that they need no oversight are often the ones that most emphatically do.

Because, after all, when a company behaves responsibly, obeys the law, does not try to skirt around regulations, and treats its workers with a modicum of fairness, it can pretty much make all the money it wants, and no one is going to call for a watchdog. Why would they?

I know this is dicey territory, because some of you politicos seem to want to slap government regulations on everything (which experience tells us is a bad idea), and some of you don’t want regulations on anything (which history suggests is equally bad). But here is a simple equation for you and your fellow lawmakers to keep in mind as you try to figure out what, if anything, you want to do with the BPs of the world: When anyone tells you to ignore that man behind the curtain…don’t…because there is a reason Toto is hopping around and yapping like a burglar is sneaking through the house.

Can you give me a call today sometime after lunch? I have way too much to do this morning to chat, but sometime around, oh say, 2 or 3 I could be available.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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