- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

We strive to teach our children and grandchildren that when you do something wrong in an effort to advance yourself at the expense of others, there are consequences both intended and unintended.

This simple “life lesson” can be applied to the fraud perpetrated against unsuspecting investors and employees of MCI/WorldCom. The only difference is that the consequences certainly don’t match the crime.

We have seen the consequences of MCI/WorldCom’s historic bankruptcy. Millions of investors lost billions of dollars. State pension funds suffered severely, and employees and retirees of the company alike found the money they invested in retirement savings simply disappeared.

Almost immediately, the federal government promised action. However, in the months following the company’s declaration of bankruptcy, it was rewarded with more than $700 million in taxpayer-funded contracts. Not until Congress threatened action did the General Services Administration (GSA) suspend federal contracting with MCI/WorldCom and propose debarment.

In the meantime, state governments got tired of just waiting around for someone to exact a punishment against the company that impacted so many of our citizens. The attorney general in Oklahoma filed criminal charges against the company and several of its former executives. The state of Indiana barred MCI/WorldCom as a contractor and legislators in New York and Connecticut have proposed legislation that would ban their respective states from contracting with companies like MCI/WorldCom.

However, given GSA’s initial foot-dragging, I remain wary the agency will actually decide the suspension of the company for a short time is punishment enough, and then pick up where it left off — awarding multimillion-dollar contracts to MCI/WorldCom with the tax dollars paid by many of the victims of the company’s crime.

By any measure, that’s not a consequence, that is a reward.

In a recent opinion editorial, the Oklahoma attorney general said it best: “WorldCom’s lawyers and spin doctors say that our action is punishing a company that has cleaned up its act. I take exception to this claim.

“I understand and appreciate that none of the individual defendants still work at the company, but I maintain and intend to prove in court that the decision to commit this fraud was a company decision,” the attorney general continued. “Removing a few employees and changing the company’s name doesn’t exonerate WorldCom. Should a common criminal expect to go unpunished because he changed his name, declared bankruptcy, said he was sorry and promised to change his ways? The answer is no, and neither should WorldCom.”

The other life lesson we endeavor to instill in future generations is that we are often judged by our actions and must lead by example.

At this point, the states that have taken a stand against the crimes committed by MCI/WorldCom against innocent victims are setting the standard. It is time for the federal government to lead by example and bar MCI/WorldCom from doing business with taxpayer-funded programs. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s the only thing to do.

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association in Arlington, Va.

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