Boeing’s plea deal with the federal government that was announced Sunday concerning issues related to the company’s 737 Max is a timely reminder for business executives about the importance of full disclosure and accountability in the aftermath of a crisis.

The failure to provide all the information that is requested by authorities about a crisis further damages the image and reputation of a company and can deepen or extend the crisis—or create a new one.

Subject To Approval

In the deal that is subject to a judge’s approval, Boeing would plead guilty to defrauding the government in a case related to the crash of two of its 737 Max planes and not adhering to the terms of an agreement with the government that enabled the company to avoid prosecution.

Boeing confirmed that it had reached an “agreement in principle in terms of a resolution with the Justice Department subject to the memorialization and approval of specific terms,” according to the Washington Post.

Another Low Point

“It is rare for a company of Boeing’s stature to plead guilty to a crime, and the moment marks another low point for the already-battered reputation of the century-old aircraft manufacturer,” the Washington Post reported.

“The plea underscores the long shadow of the deadly crashes and also comes at [a[ time when Boeing is trying to restore the trust of regulators and the flying public amid a fresh safety crisis that began in January when a panel flew off the side of a newer model Max mid-flight,” the news outlet wrote.

Ripple Effect

In addition to further damaging its reputation, the plea deal “potentially ability to secure lucrative government contracts with the likes of the U.S. Defense Department and NASA, although it could seek waivers,” Reuters reported.

“Over on-third of Boeing’s work is via government contract and [the plea] could have long ranging impact on Boeing their contracts and the lives of Boeing’s 167,000 member workforce,” Michael Coffey, an attorney and senior partner of Coffey Modica, a defense litigation firm, explained via email.


Despite the damage the deal will have on Boeing, legal experts say it may not discourage others from similar transgressions.

Deal Lacks Teeth

“The Boeing plea deal— like others involving corporations— lacks teeth,” Wayne Cohen, a law professor at the George Washington University School of Law, said in a statement.

“The flaw here is that although individuals may go to prison for similar offenses, corporations escape with fines. This begs the question whether justice has been served. Financial penalties in civil cases are acceptable, but in criminal cases no one faces prison. That’s the problem,” he observed.

Limited Deterrence

“A criminal plea for Boeing’s misconduct is likely to have a deterrent effect on other corporations,” Jason Brown, a former Department of Justice Special Agent and a legal advisor to the FBI.

“However, if only the company pleads guilty and no individuals are held accountable, the deterrence may be limited, as individual actors might feel insulated from criminal liability behind the corporate shield. Often, the act itself isn’t enough to trigger culpability; it’s the obstruction and cover-up that lead to charges,” he noted.

Controlling The Narrative

One of the lessons to come out of the plea deal is “the importance of engaging a crisis management team and legal experts who can tactfully disclose wrongdoing while controlling the narrative,” Brown observed.

“This approach helps avoid a concealed liability that will inevitably be exposed, often through whistleblowers or other means. Business leaders should learn from this plea deal that transparency and accountability are crucial in crisis management to prevent further legal and reputational damage,” he concluded.