Fratricide Within the Federal Government: How Do They Get Away With It?

Fratricide is recognized as the taking down of members of your own group. Leaders in the Federal Government have committed and gotten away with several forms of fratricide over the last few decades. Federal leaders have taken detrimental actions against their own employees for following expressed organizational goals and missions. Although many employees have sought assistance in combating the offensive actions of their leaders, those employees have often been re-offended by the people to whom they complained (e.g., mediators, lawyers, and judges).

Liz, a Secretary working for the Federal Government, reported several instances of time card fraud. Liz witnessed employees working far less than the 40 hours per week they claimed on their time cards. Liz’s revelation had been quietly discussed by her co-workers years before she recognized the violations. Liz’s leaders ignored her complaints and left Liz in a position where she had to either ignore the violations and continue to certify the fraudulent time cards or seek assistance from higher-level Government leaders. Liz chose to report her findings to U.S. Army leaders in Washington D.C. The Army leaders ordered an investigation and sent an Army Captain to collect evidence and report the findings. The final report revealed nearly 20% of roughly 500 of Liz’s co-workers were claiming work hours they never actually worked. Liz’s leaders read the Captain’s report and simply issued a rebuttal statement informing that the equipment used at entrances to track when employees entered the compound malfunctioned. Liz, as a result of her whistleblowing activities, was punished by her leaders.

Henry, a civilian Engineer, served on several teams where companies submitted bids for Federal Government contracts. After witnessing several instances where companies were pre-selected to win contracts and selection criteria were changed to assist preferred companies in winning contracts, Henry reported the illegal practices to his Supervisors. Henry was subsequently removed from teams, given low performance reviews, and passed-over for promotions. Henry sought help from other Federal organizations like the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but was not successful in gaining assistance in stopping the illegal actions of his teammates and leaders. Henry, as a result of his whistleblowing activities, was professionally ostracized and threatened with removal from federal service.

Colonel Timothy led a department of workers until a few of his female employees reported that he harassed them on numerous occasions. One employee reported that the Colonel took under-the-table photos of her during meetings where she wore skirts. Rather than punish the Colonel in accordance with military law, Colonel Timothy’s commanding (General) officer removed him from his supervisory position over the women he victimized and placed the Colonel on a “special assignment”. The women were forced to continue carrying out their duties knowing Colonel Timothy could walk up to them at any moment. The usual stress that results from reporting sexual harassment with no meaningful results undoubtedly consumes Colonel Timothy’s female victims.

In all of the cases mentioned in this article, the familiar theme is the lack of integrity and true leadership. Leaders must model the behavior they expect from their employees. When leaders decide against intervening to stop (and punish) wrongdoers, they send the message that it is acceptable to commit wrongs-even violations of law. Leaders’ inactions in cases of known harassment and illegal activity are often detrimental to their employees and to the morale of their organizations. Many employees never recover from the harassment they were forced to endure and some, as a result of their leader’s decision not to act, sink to low mental and spiritual levels-arguably, a form of fratricide. Leaders at multiple levels choose to bury their heads in the sand rather than react properly to the complaints of their employees. In some cases, as evidenced by the fact that Liz, Henry, and Colonel Timothy work at the same organization, leaders repeatedly refuse to act with integrity in response to employee complaints. As a result, offenders are often emboldened to continue their unlawful acts. How do they get away with it? Their “leaders” let them.