Accountability and Responsibility

Going east on Interstate 10, just before you leave Jefferson Parish and enter Orleans, construction workers are hard at work a few feet to your left putting together a massive “fly-over” that will allow commuters driving into Metairie from the Pontchartrain Causeway to avoid the most congested part of the interstate and get on into the downtown area. It’s due to be finished in 2009 and is costing 69 million dollars. Now they’re having to take up much of the concrete they’ve laid and start over.

Inspectors found that 350 cubic yards of concrete–that would be some 40 cement trucks worth–will have to be ripped up and replaced. All we’re told is that the concrete was “adulterated,” and a spokeswoman for Boh Bros. Construction said they’re looking into how that particular cement made its way into the supply chain. Inspectors say the plan is for the concrete in this corridor to last 75 years, but that this particular concrete is thinned down to the point that it would be worn out in less than half that time.

Inspection is good. Strict enforcement is great. Accountability is a terrific thing. We motorists have to trust that the highways and bridges going up everywhere around here will do what they are supposed to. Most of the major thoroughfares throughout this city are elevated, some of them frighteningly so, like the well-named “Highrise” in Gentilly that passes over the Industrial Canal.

How does that line go? “People will not do what you expect; they will do what you inspect.”


Forty years ago, as the young pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, I learned the Dale Carnegie Institute was giving a one-day seminar on management at a local hotel. “I’ll pay for it, if you’ll take it,” a church member said. As I recall, the cost was $90 and worth every penny. To this day, I recall some of the points the instructor made about delegation and accountability. When we assign tasks to people in our organization, unless we go back and followup to see how they are doing, we may assume the work will not be done. The followup may be as simple as a phone call asking, “How’s the new class coming?” or a brief conversation in the hallway to see if the worker has a question or needs anything. When he knows you are still with him on this project, still interested, still involved, and still available to assist him, the worker is going to give his best effort.

So, thanks for the reminder about accountability, state inspectors.

The one part of the above story that unsettles us is the spokesperson for Boh Brothers promising to find out how the bad concrete made its way into the supply. Uh oh. Does she mean to tell us there are problems at the work site, that no one is checking to see that what arrives in trucks is what’s supposed to be there? Not a reassuring thing.

I would feel better if the woman had said, “We disagree with the inspectors. We feel confident this concrete meets the specifications. However, we are complying with their findings.” Take ownership of what you did, rather than saying, “How did this get in there?”

At this point, Boh Brothers has not assigned blame for this foul-up. Not yet, at any rate. But I expect someone on the ground level is in big trouble.

One of the funniest lines in Scripture–although Moses didn’t laugh–was uttered by Aaron just after God gave Israel the Ten Commandments at Sinai. During Moses’ 40 day absence atop Old Smokey, the Lord’s people grew restless and asked Aaron to make them a golden calf, the kind they’d seen worshiped down in Egypt. “As for Moses, we don’t know what has become of him,” they complained. Without a murmur of dissent, Aaron asked them to bring in their golden earrings and jewelry. He took the rings, melted them down, and using an engraving tool, fashioned a golden calf which the fresh-from-Egypt Israelites proceeded to bow before and worship. An old-fashioned orgy broke out, the kind of Egyptian debauchery they’d seen practiced and from which God was hard-at-work trying to deliver them. That was the picture when Moses walked into the camp and asked for an explanation.

“Well,” Aaron stammered, “You know these people. They’re headstrong. No one can do anything with them.” The people had demanded an idol, he said, and he had invited them to bring their golden earrings. Then, something miraculous happened. “We threw them into the fire and–out came this calf!”

Moses knew his brother and was acquainted with the craft of calf-making to the point that he did not buy into that little bit of fiction. What followed was not a pretty sight. (Exodus 32)

After Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden, God came calling. “Adam, what have you done?” He asked. Adam said, “Uh, Lord, the woman WHOM YOU MADE, she gave me this forbidden fruit to eat.” God turned to Eve and said, “What’s your story?” She didn’t hesitate. “Lord, the serpent deceived me and I ate it.”

When the Lord turned to the serpent, the poor creature did not have a leg to stand on. (Groan.)

I did it. I was wrong. Please forgive me. It’s hard to find any more necessary words so long as we are in this human condition and situation.

Preachers and Bible teachers are always looking for illustrations of biblical truths.

I thought you would appreciate a “concrete” example.

One thought on “Accountability and Responsibility

  1. On the topic of Highway Construction: Reminds me of the fatal incident a summer ago, State of Massachusettes Highway Turnpike which collapsed…resulting in a death of a lady who died in her car while traveling underneath the highway bridge…the Accountability fell on the CEO of the Massachusettes Turnpike…who had to resign (based on Accountability) from his position by the recommendation of the State representative. The State rep. then made amends to the family of the lady who died, by giving apologies and hiring new Inspection crew and replaced the CEO for the Massachusettes Turnpike Highway, promising a safer Turnpike for the future. Is was very sad news.