Saturday, June 12, 2010

Arlington Cemetery ... an apology for screwed up record keeping

Dear Colleagues

It is really unbelievable ... a place like Arlington National Cemetery does not have a fast moving inventory ... in fact it is the ultimate on slow moving inventory. It should be possible to have excellence in inventory record keeping ... so it comes as a terrible surprise to find that the record keeping is not very good and they have the records screwed up.

The idea that it is the old fashioned card system that is to blame is total baloney. Observers have been saying that it is terrible that they do not have a good computer system and this is the problem. This is absolute tripe. Good accurate records are able to be kept in ledgers ... and the good thing about a ledger entry is that it does not easily get deleted by some unfathomable program glitch or spike in electric voltage. My guess is that the accuracy of the civil war era records are about 100% even though these records predate computers by more than one hundred years.

There was a time when keeping records ... being an accounting clerk ... had some cache and people paid attention to their work and did it well. For a very long time now there have been a lot of entitled people who have done their work in a sloppy manner and been well paid for it anyhow. This has been aggravated by supervisors who were also doing their work in a sloppy manner and getting even more money for their sloppy work ... and on up the chain of command. This is an appalling state of affairs ... but it is also the norm in too many parts of modern society.

In my days as the CFO of an international company some years ago I learned something about the management of accounting offices and the clerical staff. Sad to say the most difficult oversight job was with offices in the USA ... the clerical staff in developing countries did excellent work as soon as they realized that there would be oversight and only good work would be tolerated. Not quite the same in the USA where there was push-back to strong oversight and the staff could leave and go down the street to work for some organization that was easier work!

Computers are a good thing ... but the reason for this screw up at the Arlington National Cemetery is much more likely to be a people problem than a technology problem.


Peter Burgess

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