bureaucracybusters

“DON’T EMBARRASS THE BUREAU–OR THE BUSINESS”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 25, 2022 at 12:10 am

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the FBI, has been dead for almost 50 years. But his rule—“Don’t embarrass the Bureau”—is very much alive and well in corporate America.

In 1959, Hoover—against his will—declared war on the Mafia.

On November 14, 1957, 70 top Mafia leaders from across the country had gathered at the estate of a fellow gangster, Joseph Barbara, in Apalachin, a small village in upstate New York.

The presence of so many cars with out-of-state license plates converging on an isolated mansion caught the attention of Sergeant Edgar Crosswell of the New York State Police.

Crosswell assembled an army of state troopers, set up roadblocks, and swooped down on the estate.

The mobsters, panicked and fled—many into the surrounding woods. Even so, more than 60 underworld bosses were arrested and indicted following the raid.

Hoover had vigorously and vocally denied the existence of a nationwide Mafia. He had carefully kept the FBI well out of the war on organized crime. Several theories have been advanced as to why:

  1. Hoover feared that his agents—-long renowned for their incorruptibility—would fall prey to the bribes of well-heeled mobsters.
  2. Hoover feared that his allegedly homosexual relationship with his longtime associate director, Clyde Tolson, would be exposed by the Mob. Rumors still persist that mobster Meyer Lansky came into possession of a compromising photo of Hoover and Tolson engaged in flagrante delicto.
  3. Hoover knew of the ties between moneyed mobsters and their political allies in Congress. And he feared losing the goodwill of his political allies—and ever-larger appropriations for the FBI.
  4. Hoover preferred flashy, easily-solved cases to those requiring huge investments of manpower and money.

Suddenly, however, ignoring the Mob was no longer possible.

J. Edgar Hoover

He set up a Top Hoodlum Program and encouraged his agents to use wiretapping and electronic surveillance (“bugging”) to make up for lost time and Intelligence.

But planting “bugs” demanded illegal trespass into mob hangouts.

Making this even more hazardous: Hoover imposed restrictions on these assignments that could destroy an agent’s professional and personal life.

William E. Roemer, Jr., assigned to the FBI’s Chicago field office, was one of the first agents to volunteer for such duty.

William Roemer | C-SPAN.org

William Roemer

In his memoirs, Man Against the Mob, published in 1989, Roemer laid out the dangers that went with such work:

  1. If confronted by police or mobsters, agents were to try to escape without being identified.
  2. If caught by police, agents were not to identify themselves as FBI employees.
  3. They were to carry no badges, credentials or guns—or anything else connecting themselves with the FBI.
  4. If they were arrested by police and the truth emerged about their FBI employment, the Bureau would claim they were “rogue agents” acting on their own.
  5. Such agents were not to refute the FBI’s portrayal of them as “rogues.”

As summed up by Roemer, Hoover’s greatest concern was always: ‘Do the job, by God, but don’t ever let anything happen that might embarrass the Bureau.”

In the business sector, Hoover’s rule still forcefully apples. Anyone who doubts this need only examine the public scandal involving Applebee’s International, Inc.

AB Brand Refresh Logo R.png

Applebees Restaurant LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

On March 9, Wayne Pankratz, an executive with Apple Central, a Kansas City-based company that operates Applebee’s restaurants, sent an email to managers saying high gas prices could help them cut employees’ wages.

He noted that most Applebee’s employees live “paycheck to paycheck.” But instead of suggesting a pay raise, he advocated the opposite: 

“Any increase in gas price cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”

Because workers were no longer supported by government stimulus, desperate workers would be forced back into the workforce regardless of wages, giving the company the upper hand when it came to compensation.

Pankratz said competing restaurants had been raising wages to attract more workers, leaving Applebee’s struggling to keep up.

“We all saw businesses hiring team members at $18-$20 an hour. They will no longer be able to afford to do this,” the memo said. 

Pankratz predicted that the labor market was “about to turn in our favor.”

The memo was posted to an r/antiwork forum on Reddit and then picked up on social media. At that point, it took on a life of its own. 

Twitter users expressed outrage at the memo. Some said they would spend their money at other restaurants.

At least three managers quit their jobs at a Kansas Applebee’s over the memo, CBS News reported. 

Suddenly, it was Pankratz who was desperate for employment—he was fired.

In line with Hoover’s dictum of disavowing anyone who caused embarrassment for the organization, Kevin Carroll, Dine Brands’ chief operations officer for Applebee’s, rushed to repair the damage:

“This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s. We understand that the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market has placed the individual on leave.

“Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”

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