The Centralia Disaster

Topics: Government, Bureaucracy, Mining Pages: 6 (1706 words) Published: July 31, 2012
The Government’s Role in the Centralia Disaster
Jason Smith
Strayer University
PAD500 Modern Public Administration

The Government’s Role in the Centralia Disaster
This paper will explore logistical alternatives to those chosen by Mine Inspector Driscoll O. Scanlan as described in “The Blast in Centralia No.5: A Mine Disaster No one Stopped” by John Bartlow Martin (Denhardt, R. B., & Denhardt, J. V. 2010 p31-44). We will seek to understand some of the possible motives stemming from Scanlan’s beliefs concerning the Constitution, bureaucracy, and his obligation to his work. Finally we will suggest alternate decisions which may have lead to better outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to present alternative choices that might have been made by Scanlan, on behalf of the Department of Mineral and Mines, to prevent the mine disaster of 1947.

Logistical Alternatives
According to John Bartlow Martin (1948),
Speaking broadly, the job of a state inspector is to police the mine operators--to see that they comply with the state mining law, including its numerous safety provisions. But an inspector’s job is a political patronage job. Coal has always been deeply enmeshed in Illinois politics. (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2010, p.32) Inherent conflicts between business and government are described openly in this job description. Did this conflict foster the conditions that led to the mine disaster? Could the government have avoided this conflict? The following section will explore some of the possible alternative decisions that might have lead to better outcomes.

Alternative 1: Define Boundaries of Professional Relationships Foster a more professional relationship between government and business. It was too common an occurrence that inspectors and supervisors would be on terms too friendly to be called professional. The government must always avoid the appearance of doing favors for businessmen who fund their campaigns. Consider this excerpt on the opinion of workers over 20 years after the mine blast at Centralia on the inspection process: When regular monitoring of underground miners' exposure to respirable dust began in 1970, many miners scoffed at having coal mine operators take their own dust samples. Mine operators had vigorously opposed the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. They said it was unnecessary, unfeasible, and unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Congress delegated to them the role of taking samples to determine compliance with the exposure limit. Miners were astounded. They said it was like "having the fox guard the chicken coop." (Weeks, J. L. 2003) A code of conduct would have clearly outlined that fraternizing and socializing after work hours was prohibited and that inspection work should be done away from the eyes, ears, and influence of company representatives. Scanlan could have advocated for or even written a code of conduct that would have addressed the ethical dilemmas and promoted a more professional work relationship.

Alternative 2: Advocate for Steeper Penalties
Increase the fines and penalties for non-compliance. The laws existed prohibiting the conditions that led to the disaster. The problem wasn’t that the government had not acknowledged the problem. The trouble was government wasn’t willing to go far enough to prove how serious it was through the use of stern enforcement. After years of receiving letters of non-compliance with no adverse effect to their business, the Centralia Company had no reason to take the letters seriously.

Alternative 3: Impose Department Training to Improve Accountability Professionalize the office. Technology, as well as the education requirements of those in leadership has improved since the 1940’s, and outcome expectations have increased as well. It is disturbing to read about an under qualified opportunist such as Robert M. Medill being appointed to such a high...

References: Clinton, J. D., Bertelli, A., Grose, C. R., Lewis, D. E., & Nixon, D. C. (2012). Separated Powers in the United States: The Ideology of Agencies, Presidents, and Congress. American Journal Of Political Science, 56(2), 341-354. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00559.x
Crenson, M. A. (2003). From popular to personal democracy. National Civic Review, 92(2), 173-189.
Denhardt, R. B., & Denhardt, J. V. (2010). Chapter 1 Case study 1. In Public administration an Action Orientation. (6th ed.). (pp. 30-44). Mason, Ohio, United States: Cengage Learning.
Weeks, J. L. (2003). The Fox Guarding the chicken Coop: Monitoring Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust, 1969-2000. American Journal Of Public Health, 93(8), 1236-1244.
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