The year was 1909, and Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the United States, faced a terrible personal dilemma. He had discovered a pattern of corruption in the sale of public lands to developers and other private interests. But the new president, William Howard Taft, depended on support from western Republicans and had placed a gag order on the whole affair. Pinchot was outraged at this evidence of corruption reaching the White House, but he wanted to give Taft a fair hearing. The new president had, after all, vowed to support conservation and strong control over federal lands. Taft invited Pinchot to the White House, where he alternately implored Pinchot not to go public with the matter and threatened him with dismissal if he violated the gag order. Pinchot had in his pocket a letter that could expose the scandal. This case explores the dilemma of Pinchot, a mid-level bureaucrat dependent on a president’s good will, and the strategies available to him. It shows the power of a single leader and the similarities the United States once had with many developing nations struggling with widespread corruption.
Case studies are integral teaching tools for the Leadership Academy for Development workshops conducted around the world.