Monday, October 31, 2011

Introducing the FAST RAT Program

Posted by Joe Murphy

Introducing the FAST RAT Program

Brought to you by The Devil’s Advocate, LLC.

If you are a businessperson you know how inconvenient and even expensive a compliance and ethics program can be for your company. All the materials and training, all that intrusive auditing and reviews, the pain of disciplining managers, and on and on. It is a distraction from the more exciting and lucrative action involved in winning business and making sales.

Why do you need these compliance programs? It seems that these programs really matter to most of those in government. If you get in trouble with enforcers or regulators or get hauled into court, the fact that you diligently took steps to prevent and detect violations can really count. It might reduce your fine or penalty, it might mean no prosecution, it might even mean a defense at trial. And if you are dumb enough not to have a program before you are caught, most prosecutors will surely force you to come to terms with your conduct and institute a truly tough program. So there is really no point in complaining, because a good program is a necessary and important investment – in most areas of the law.

But we have exciting news for you. In one – and only one – area of the law you can escape these intrusive programs. In just one area government does not expect you to have a program, does not ask about your program, and even if you admit a violation you do not need to adopt a program despite committing the worst criminal violations. This one agency – the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice - refers to any program that is not perfect as a “failed program.” Obviously they know that no program can be perfect, so by taking this position this agency manages to avoid the entire subject. They don’t believe in spending their time dealing with compliance programs, so why should you? If you are thinking about an antitrust compliance program, this is one area where the government offers no reason to do so.

Of course, if you are contemplating compliance programs in any other area – FCPA, government contract fraud, environmental compliance, discrimination, harassment, etc. – there are good reasons to do so. Those agencies look for them, they expect you to have them, and they actually consider them in how they will treat your company. But antitrust? You don’t have to spend your money to win points with government, because this part of government simply does not care.

But there is an alternative that can pay real dividends. The Antitrust Division does care about one thing, and it is the only reason they say compliance programs do count for anything – being the first cartel conspirator to report your fellow conspirators. If you are the first – but only the first – you are richly rewarded under their “Leniency Program.” You are not prosecuted. You are not fined. None of your people are prosecuted. None of your people are fined. And, to top it off, you are never required to have or start a compliance program, no matter how bad your offense.

The Antitrust Division makes it truly easy. No compliance program? It doesn’t matter. In a cartel for a decade? The length doesn’t matter. Made a bundle from the cartel? That doesn’t matter. All that matters is being first in, through their Leniency Program. So in every other area of the law it makes sense to have a strong compliance program, but in antitrust, all that matters is being first to report on your cartel colleagues.

Instead of wasting time and money on compliance, we at the Devils Advocate, LLC, are now offering the perfect program for dealing with competition law risks. Forget antitrust compliance, or trying to do the impossible – have a perfect compliance program. Forget trying to get your people not to engage in cartels. Instead, we have the solution to ensure you can use the Antitrust Division’s Leniency Program. We call it the: “First Antitrust Snitch Triumphs – Report and Tell” Program (“FAST RAT”).

Compare this lean and mean alternative to what you would need for a compliance program:

COMPLIANCE: You have to set policies against violations, and make sure they reach your people. You need controls designed to make violations even more difficult.

FAST RAT: Just have a policy, that anyone aware of a competitor likely to report a cartel must report to the FAST RAT coordinator (explained later) immediately.

COMPLIANCE: You need a high-level compliance officer watching whatever you are doing, monitoring the company-wide program, and reporting to the board. Senior officers have to endorse and support the program. You need a compliance committee to coordinate the program. You need subject matter experts in each high-risk area. You need compliance coordinators throughout your business. You need regular reports to your board of directors. What a nuisance!

FAST RAT: You only need a FAST RAT coordinator who knows the leniency program inside and out, and knows how to report on a moment’s notice. The FAST RAT coordinator also needs to know the signs of a weakening cartel, to beat all others to the punch. A savvy FAST RAT coordinator will even socialize with competitors, the better to learn when one of them might be weakening. The FAST RAT coordinator has outside counsel with papers already in hand, ready to sprint to the government’s door. No compliance officer, no board, no senior management distraction.

COMPLIANCE: You need to conduct background checks on new hires and be careful who you promote. This means the compliance officer plays a role in promotions.

FAST RAT: Forget all that stuff.

COMPLIANCE: You need to train any at-risk people about the law on cartels and what can happen to them. This can be expensive and time consuming. But training employees on cartels is enormously stupid. First, if you scare them they might not tell you when a cartel might be coming to an end. Worse still, you stand to gain a great deal from having a cartel last as long as possible. Then, if you beat your erstwhile co-conspirators to the government because of your FAST RAT program, they get whacked by the government and hurt badly in the marketplace. Meanwhile, you live well and comfortably until the cartel starts to deteriorate and it is time to call the government. At worst, all you do is give back as much as the government thinks you stole through the cartel. But they are so focused on nailing your competitors, they won’t spend that much time on you.

FAST RAT: Training is a breeze. Just make sure all your folks know the warning signs that another competitor might be wavering. They need to know how important it is that your company be first to report. They also need to know a few simple rules of the game, such as how to induce another dumb competitor to appear to take the initiative, and how to get other competitors to “coerce” others to join the cartel – two points you need to avoid to qualify for the leniency program. As a special bonus, making sure that each of your co-conspirators either qualifies as a “leader” or as someone who “coerced” another to participate makes it impossible for them to be eligible for leniency, and gives you the ability to wait for the maximum benefit before you turn them in. Your people do need to know to let the FAST RAT coordinator know as soon as possible if a cartel starts to weaken. Just hammer home to your people how important it is for your company to be first in the door – believe us, they will get the message Cartels make money for everyone, and the FAST RAT program can mean more rewards, even when the useful life of the cartel comes to an end.

COMPLIANCE: In a compliance program you need to keep checking to find out what is going on, who is doing what, and how the program is working. There is a long list of things companies spend energy and resources on – surveys, focus groups, interviews, computerized screening, tests, deep dives, etc. The costs and distraction are enormous, trying to find and stamp out any possible infractions. Plus, if a healthy cartel is prospering and helping you keep up margins, an intrusive program can spoil all that. It can even drive cartels underground, making it harder for you to know when to run to the government when the cartel starts to fall apart.

FAST RAT: You just need to know when there is the first sign of a cartel coming to an end. A good cartel can go strong for more than a decade. So you only need to look for certain conditions associated with cartel deterioration. Much, much simpler than all those diligence steps in a compliance program.

COMPLIANCE: You need advice and reporting systems that reach everyone. You need to protect those who report, so there is no retaliation. You need to reach everyone, everywhere in the business. And as soon as you start to investigate an issue, all your competitors are likely to find out through the grapevine and beat you to the punch in the leniency program. In fact, if one of your competitors has the FAST RAT program, they will win and all your diligence will cause you to lose.

FAST RAT: Forget all that stuff. Just make sure everyone in your company involved in competitive matters knows when to call the FAST RAT coordinator – at the first sign of cartel weakness.

COMPLIANCE: You need to discipline people for even getting near a violation, and even for simple things like not getting the training. You even need to discipline managers for not policing their own people.

FAST RAT: Forget all that stuff. You just make it clear that if another conspirator beats your company to the government’s door, heads will roll. Otherwise, just let your people do what they do best, and forget all about discipline. Quiet, happy, profitable cartels don’t call for any discipline.

COMPLIANCE: You need to be sure your whole incentive system supports the compliance program. This is a giant task that easily can get in the way of having a healthy and profitable cartel. Rewards for compliance leadership, rewards for raising difficult compliance questions, rewards for being a model under the company’s code of conduct. Giving away money and recognition for compliance activity, instead of just for fattening margins.

FAST RAT: Big rewards if your company hits its profit goals, especially if it turns out a cartel was helping meet the numbers. Plus, a giant reward for any manager who figures out another cartel member was getting weak knees and helps your company to be first to report on other cartel members.

COMPLIANCE: Risk assessment is a big, painful deal. Trying to figure out which locations, markets and people are most susceptible to cartel behavior, then targeting them with all the compliance tools.

FAST RAT: Forget all that stuff. You just focus on the signs of a weakening cartel, and when is the best time to report. You don’t want to be premature, because healthy cartels mean big margins and comfortable lives for everyone. But your objective is never to be too late to make your report. Sophisticated computer analysis can maximize your chances of being first in. And remember, aside from possible lost profits from reporting too early, there is no real downside.

So compare:

COMPLIANCE: Costs, diligence, management commitment, training, audits, discipline – on and on the list goes. And if your big, expensive program finds signs of a violation, you will probably just end up being punished by government. Plenty of risk, very little reward.

FAST RAT: Forget all that stuff. Just let people know when to call your FAST RAT coordinator. Then sit back and enjoy those fat profits that come from healthy cartels. And as soon as a cartel starts no longer to be profitable, use the FAST RAT. Your competitors get hammered with costs of defending themselves, then big fines for them, and fines and jail for their key people. What a great scenario for your company!

So what should you do? How do you start your own FAST RAT program? You need to call, and you need to call first. There can be only one FAST RAT in any industry. For more information, and to ride the FAST RAT program to success, call us at The Devils Advocate, LLC. You too can be a FAST RAT beneficiary under the Antitrust Division’s leniency program. Let us show you how. Just remember, you can be a FAST RAT – just “go to the Devil” – The Devil’s Advocate, LLC.

NOTE: If you have European operations, the FAST RAT program works even better there.

DISCLAIMER: Not available in Canada, the UK, Australia, Singapore and other countries that do recognize competition law compliance programs.

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