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681.0 George Shultz and the Polygraph Test
Shortly before Christmas 1985, Secretary of State George Shultz publicly threatened to resign over a pending administration directive that would have required thousands of government employees with access to highly classified information to submit to a polygraph test. Since Shultz was widely regarded as a politically savvy team player as well as a man of impeccable integrity, the administration was rocked by this public display of disagreement. This case chronicles the NSC decision-making process that created the "polygraph" directive and the attitudes of key administration figures on the use of such testing. The case-designed to ask the question: Was George Shultz a virtuous public manager?-raises issues of both policy and political management. The apparent policy tradeoff-between national security and individual privacy-contains many dimensions worth exploring: the value of the polygraph as an investigative tool and as a deterrent; its effect on espionage versus leaks (and the potential value of leaks); the implications of technological fallibility; and the relationship between privacy, trust and accountability in the public sector. Questions of political management turn on Shultz's ambiguous obligation to the president (doing what the president says versus what Shultz arguably thinks is in the president's best interest), his obligation to the State Department and its employees, and the potential conflict between the two. The case also allows for discussion of the legitimacy of a high level decision-making process, and the virtue of resignation.
Learning Objective:
This case details the historic events that took place in 1985 between then Secretary of State George Shultz and the US Legislature. Students will understand the procedure of appealing proposed legislation.
Date Published: 1/1/1986
Format: PAPER
(incl. exhibits)
Authors: Don Lippincott
Dorothy Robyn
Sponsors: Dorothy Robyn

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