Reports are never 100% accurate, and the reporter is probably just the messenger, not the manager

Okay almost never and if they are 100%, then they probably won’t stay that way for long; especially when we’re talking about a current happening, or a report on a large number of people or equipment moving.


The Yellow Pages became outdated the moment they got printed. Why? Because life moves.

I recently got tasked with assembling the vehicle manifest for an exercise. It wasn’t even for my organizational level, but for one above me. I only assembled it. I took input from different parts of our large unit to make one consolidated list, or report.

I compiled several reports into one. I didn’t play a role in analyzing each subordinate unit’s smaller mission requirements or how its capabilities could best meet the requirements. I only compiled.

Given the large number of people and vehicles, we can expect some margin of error. Like a game of telephone or like entropy in thermodynamics, error accumulates.

Given the time between reporting and execution, not only does the cumulative error increase, it compounds.

Furthermore, even if not an error, people change their minds, vehicles break, Murphy happens, and changes need to get made.

By the time H-hour arrives, the initial report might have gone from 90% reliable to 51% reliable or worse.

Naturally, in just a short amount of time, my report became notably inaccurate, if it was ever accurate (i.e., 90% or better).


Some years ago, I served on the active duty staff of a Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center. I was a Sergeant (E-5) in the Marine Corps. The reservist drilled one weekend a month, two weeks a year, just like the commercials say.

To make sure they got paid accordingly, I needed to create a report of who all showed up to drill. It needed to be accurate.

For some reason, it needed to be 100% accurate a few days ahead of drill. At least, that’s how that unit operated. This wasn’t possible.

Why? Because there was always a difference between whom we expected to show up and who actually did show up. Life happens. Some Marines couldn’t make it; car accident, family emergency, orders elsewhere, drill already performed for the month, service obligation completed, you name it.

It made more sense to assemble the report after taking roll. Even then, errors occurred. People have the same name. Roll sometimes gets conveyed via handwriting to the admin office, and handwriting can get difficult to read; we don’t all know each other, and best-guesses still remain guesses. You name it. So long as we corrected all the errors prior to entering the report into the payment system, we were good.

I worked for this Staff Sergeant (E-6) who demanded perfection, which proves admirable in other pursuits, like physical performance. Our reports, however, seemed to need plenty of iterations before saying we’re done.


When a report comes from higher, it can sometimes be confusing as to whether the report represents a description of the present situation or a prescription (an order) for lower to follow.

I serve as a Captain (O-3E) at the battalion level. Typically, at the battalion level, a Captain serves as the officer-in-charge of his particular staff section. Except for my section, the Support Operations (SPO) section; a Major (O-4) leads it.

Nonetheless, after I published my report, I immediately got emails and phone calls requesting permission to move around vehicles and people.

My response was, quite broadly, “Brother… This is not a SPO [external logistics] function. It’s an S3 [training and operations] function. I don’t have the authority to decide that.”

My task was simply to take a snapshot of what everyone was reporting; to help out because being short, nerdy, and Asian somehow implies skill at computers and therefore skill at gathering and reporting information; and furthermore, because skill at gathering and reporting information somehow implies skill at managing the thing being reported on.


I’d also get emails and phone calls saying that this and that was incorrect – not typos, but substantial errors. Errors involving the assignments of persons and vehicles. Errors clear to whoever drafted the report, but not to me assembling it; like a computer, garbage in, garbage out.

My response, “Roger. Good copy.”

Then I did nothing about it. I was busy. Wasn’t my job. In many of the cases, I wasn’t sure whose job it was for that particular section’s manifest.

It’s amazing how many conversations I can end by simply saying something like, “Okay.”