Government Property: The Parable of the Benevolent Uncle

Story Written By Mr. Art Reed

Once upon a time there were three industrious young brothers who were blessed with a benevolent Uncle.

Each of the three young men had his own successful business. One built planes, one built trucks, and one built boats.

One reason they were so successful was that their benevolent Uncle bought many of their planes, trucks and boats.

And he also supplied the equipment the brothers needed to build them. In return, he told the brothers, “You must mark the equipment I give you with my name because I own it; keep good records for each item; and use my equipment only to build my things.”

This was more than fair because the brothers would have had to spend thousands of dollars to buy the equipment themselves, and they were making a good profit selling their products to their benevolent Uncle.

In time, the businesses grew and many people wanted to buy the three brother’s planes, trucks and boats. To meet these demands, they needed more equipment than they owned and, as we know, they were forbidden to use their Uncle’s equipment to build these things for other people.

Learning that his three nephews were doing so well, the benevolent and proud Uncle decided to visit each of their plants to observe their operations.

PlaneAt the thriving plane factory, the proud nephew toured his Uncle through the work areas. But, when the benevolent Uncle asked to see the equipment he owned, the embarrassed nephew said he had forgotten to mark the Uncle’s name on the equipment, and he didn’t have records showing what belong to the Uncle.

The now not-so-benevolent Uncle grew angry and said, “When I asked you to build planes for me I gave you simple rules to keep but you ignored them.” The Uncle expressed his regrets and told his nephew that he would have someone else build his planes in the future.

Dump-Truck-DumpingThe benevolent Uncle then traveled to his second nephew’s truck factory. He asked immediately upon arriving to see his equipment and the records for it.

The nephew proudly presented the equipment labeled with the Uncle’s name, along with a fine set of records. The pleased Uncle then asked to tour the plant.

During the tour, the Uncle saw his equipment being used to build trucks that weren’t for him. He grew furious and said, “When I asked you to build trucks for me I gave you simple rules to keep, but you ignored them.” He expressed his regrets, and told his nephew that he would have someone else build his trucks in the future.

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The now-furious Uncle travelled to the third aircraft carriernephew’s boat factory, expecting the worst. Upon seeing his nephew, he blurted out, “Show me my equipment, their records, and where they are being used.”

The composed nephew showed the equipment, all properly marked, along with excellent records. And, everything not being used on his Uncle’s boats was locked in a storeroom.

The pleased Uncle turned to his smiling nephew and said, “Do you think you can also build planes and trucks?”

“I sure can, Uncle Sam,” replied the happy nephew.


What’s the Take-away

The preceding story was written by a gentleman named Mr. Arthur Reed, and I received a copy of this story from a fellow industry professional. Even though the article was written a few decades ago, the valuable lesson depicted illustrates a great lesson in contractual compliance that still rings true today. Often times we (Dept of Defense contractors and contracting personnel) may grimace over having to comply with previously agreed rules and/or regulations.

As with many growing businesses, private or public sector, companies (aim to) grow more profitable, gain market share, and are able to conduct more business than it had in years past. As the company grows, it is very important to not overlook the processes and agreements previously set in place without keeping all parties involved. In my line of work I am tasked with (among other things) evaluating Government property management procedures. However, please note that these same concerns/issues are found in the private sector, as companies have their own procedures and industry standards to keep up with.

Government Property ProfessionalsOne of the most common errors I find when evaluating a contractor’s system is lack of upkeep or adherence to established procedures and/or contractual requirements. The company might outgrow procedures, or simply disregard them because they feel they are antiquated or not important. In fact, many of the regulations set in place are set to mitigate risk (to the tax payer, national security, etc.) so failing to comply with the previously agreed contract is not only a violation, but increases the public’s risk of misappropriation, misuse, abuse, fraud, and waste.

As of this writing, companies are becoming more vigilant and effective than in years past. In doing so, company managers continue to utilize the mantra I’ve heard over and over again through my Marine Corps career: “Do More With Less

This is a risky proposition as overhead (which includes salaries) account for a majority of most business expenses. The second and more common observation I face on my daily dealings with businesses involves single point failures. As businesses seek to become more efficient than ever, personnel positions tend to shrink in an effort to reduce overhead salary expenses, and the remaining employees absorb the work of other (laid off) employees. While the story by Mr. Arthur Reed doesn’t go into the details as to why the brother’s failed to mark the Uncle’s property or utilize it only for his job, I can share that in my experience, managers pile more work on a shrinking or barely adequate staff, leading to gaps where responsibilities fall through the cracks.

I wouldn’t suggest that hiring more employees is the solve-all component to the equation, frankly, it may not be. However, my suggestion to any manager is to ensure that the basic requirements agreed upon (contractual or regulatory) are at the forefront of personnel decisions. In cases where procedures, regulations, and/or contract requirements may be obsolete, communication with the customer should take place and a mutually beneficial decision should be made to ensure requirements are enhanced if possible.

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comment bubbleHow about you? What did you think of Art’s Benevolent Uncle story? Do you have any experience from either point of view?




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