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The U.S. Government's Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure

Every few years the U.S. Department of Defense publishes a short book that contains amazing stories about real crime, cheating scientists, drug dealers, and rogue real-estate agents. It's called The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure. The book is filled with true case studies of government employees acting badly. It's used to train new government workers how not to behave on the job.

For example, one case study focuses on a federal employee who backed up his van to the office door at night and stole all of his department's computer equipment. A short time later he was arrested for trying to sell the equipment at his yard sale. He wasn't hard to catch: the computers were still plastered with barcodes and stickers that read "Property of the U.S Government."

Or there's this story: For several years two government executives apparently had never taken vacation time. But investigators noticed that they had taken lots of "religious compensatory time." Curiously, though, those days never fell on a religious holiday from any known religion. Instead, they happened to coincide with the employees' golf outings. When asked if golf tournaments should be considered a religious holiday, one of the employees replied, "They could be for some people."

Why do seemingly decent people do such dumb things? The current editor of The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure offered this explanation:

I found it didn't relate to grade, or rank, or gender. The [main] issue was that at the moment they didn't think of the ramifications. In most cases when you would sit down with these folks afterwards and say, What were you thinking? They would be banging their heads on the table and saying, You're right; I wasn't thinking.

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