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The Erosion of Public Trust: Normalization of Deviance In The Air Force

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Technical Report

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The American people have an expectation their armed forces will operate in a competent, professional, and ethical manner. In the case of the United States Air Force, there has been an erosion of trust with the American people as a result of three key organizational failures in the last ten years. Specifically, the compromise of ICBM testing material, the misconduct within Air Force basic military training, and the results of a service-wide health and welfare inspection. The phenomenon of the normalization of deviance provides clarity on why these organizational failures occurred. The main purpose of this essay is to describe the conditions where this phenomenon exists and to enable the Air Force and commanders to thwart future organizational failures and prevent breaches of the public trust. The three scenarios are examined, as are the distinct linkages and analysis of the normalization of deviance phenomenon. Five recommendations to rebuild the public trust emerge from this paper. The first recommendation is that the Air Force must achieve consistent performance and competence in daily operations by establishing realistic mission goals, carefully balanced with other aspects of Airmens lives. The second recommendation is the service should foster a culture grounded in fairness, respect, and dignity by continuing efforts to recruit and retain a diverse force. The third recommendation is to ensure all operations are grounded in integrity, and to ensure supervisors are aware of the risks when rules or policies are not being followed or when where oversight is lacking. The fourth recommendation is for officers and leaders to demonstrate positive and genuine concern for all Airmen, and inspire a culture where moral courage is as prevalent and held in the same high regard as physical courage. The final recommendation is the Air Force should educate its people on normalization of deviance in both Officer and Enlisted Professional Military Education.

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  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations

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