To the Editor:
"...plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose" or ..."the more things change, the more they stay the same." During the 40 odd years since Woodrow W. Storey wrote "Contract Performance by Industry" in The Federal Accountant (reprinted in the History section of the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of Government Financial Management), scores of government procurement initiatives have come and gone, leaving their respective legacies. The initiatives of 40 years ago, like those of today, were informed by a sense that taxpayers needed to be protected from unscrupulous contractor practices. In Mr. Storey's time, the memories of WWII and Korean Conflict improprieties were still fresh; more recently defense industry scandals have included legendary $400 toilet seats and the "III Wind" scandals of the Vietnam and Cold War eras. Every new scandal is met with demands for more watchdog legislation, adding hundreds of regulations in an effort to finally exert strong control over contractors. Invariably these initiatives are informed by price-regime controls.
Mr. Storey, though he argues from a contractor position for lesser regulation and control, strongly hints that partnership is the real answer. As he notes, our defense industrial base and procurement process have consistently provided the weapon systems needed to carry out our national security policy. This has been achieved via a common goal: the desire to get the best product, on time, in the quantity required, at the lowest possible price. To achieve a better sense of partnership, Mr. Storey calls for more contractual incentives and increased use of private sector business practices. His orientation toward performance measurement and recognition of competence and outstanding performance was certainly somewhat visionary.
Unfortunately, practices of the time precluded partnership. For example, Mr. Storey observes that the government was more interested in creating costsharing agreements, which create arms-length, noncommittal relationships. He lists the many negative ramifications of these agreements, including the possibility of unscrupulous behavior as contractors attempt to realize a "fair" profit by any means necessary. …