Bureaucratic Brownies

In which the Pentagon holds a bake sale to build a bomber.

The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long. Among the ingredients: water that conforms to the “National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (Copies are available from the Office of Drinking Water, Environmental Protection Agency, WH550D, 401 M Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20460),” eggs in compliance with “Regulations Governing the Inspection of Eggs and Egg Products (7 CFR Part 59),” and baking soda “which meets the requirements of the Food Chemicals Codex.”

Wondering about adding nuts? Simply consult section 3.2.5.3: “Shelled walnut pieces shall be of the small piece size classification, shall be of a light color, and shall be U.S. No. 1 of the U.S. Standards for Shelled English Walnuts. A minimum of 90 percent, by weight, of the pieces shall pass through a 4/16-inch diameter round hole screen and not more than 1 percent, by weight, shall pass through a 2/16-inch diameter round hole screen. The shelled walnuts shall be coated with an approved food grade antioxidant and shall be of the latest season’s crop.”

Whether you’re in the mood to snag a massive Department of Defense contract or you just want a delicious chocolatey dessert, pick up a copy of document MIL-C-44072C—“MILITARY SPECIFICATION COOKIES, OATMEAL; AND BROWNIES; COCOLATE [sic] COVERED” and start baking!

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Re: Picture

    You're not doing a heckuva job on that brownie. It looks like a chocolate chip cookie of some sort.

  • Subsidize Me!||

    I think its still a brownie, but was probably made in 1994. I'm sure the next round of pentagon requirements will stipulate that brownies must maintain their appearance for at least 30 years yet have a plastic content of less than 30%.

  • Jen||

    It could be a blondie. A blondie is technically a brownie...minus the brown...

  • Subsidize Me!||

    Racist!

  • ||

    Looks like bread to me, I'm almost sure that it is.

    If that's a brownie, it's gonna be godawful. Considering the recipe, that might just be the brownie ;)

  • Subsidize Me!||

    I've never had MRE chocolate brownies... It seems every MRE I get has one of the 43 different flavors of pound cake.

    I want the recipe for the bread that has 67 grams of fat per slice and the cheez whiz shit that goes with it. I think the DoD has a secret agenda to keep the military from defecating.

  • Scooby||

    Have you seen the SOP for shitting in the field? It makes the brownie recipe look like a little pamphlet.

  • ||

    The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long.

    Was one of the requirements that it look like a smashed turd?

  • Alan Vanneman||

    This reminds me of the KP duty I had when I was in the Army. The sergeants gave us 50-pound bags of unshelled nuts and had us sort out all the pecans, which they stole and presumably sold. Fortunately, we didn't have to shell them. I think they threw the rest of the nuts away. We never got any brownies.

  • Give Me Back My Liberty!||

    No one gives a shit.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    In that case, you can't have your liberty back. Sorry.

  • Old Mexican||

    The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long.

    Yummy!

  • Old Mexican||

    The Pentagon’s brownie recipe is 26 pages long.

    That's because the government is populated by sage and wise individuals who understand the intrincacies of brownie making. Which is why us, the boobs, have to be subservient to them, us who dare to make brownies with simple and untested flour, milk, eggs and chocolate. We are mere peasants, they are the wise ones.

    (I was channeling Tony and Chad. Sorry)

  • DBN||

    I don't know; seems pretty typical to be highly specific when outsourcing in bulk. I would be surprised if McDonald's weren't similarly picky in specifying its ingredients.

  • Give Me Back My Liberty!||

    That reminds me of something I heard someone say regarding BP response to the Gulf oil spill. He said that government doesn't have a monopoly on cripling bureaucracy. It exists in large corporations as well.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: DBN,

    I don't know; seems pretty typical to be highly specific when outsourcing in bulk.

    No, it is not, unless you're talking about a very complicated piece of equipment. When I purchased raw materials, the specs for each were in one page only. The formula for the product only required 2 pages.

    I would be surprised if McDonald's weren't similarly picky in specifying its ingredients.

    Get surprised. Their list of ingredients for their most popular products is only 23 pages long:

    http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com.....tslist.pdf

  • Ron L||

    Just a wild guess, but I'd bet the reason Micky D's specs are shorter than the gov't's has to do with the profit motive...

  • Jim||

    That's information they make available to the public. I bet the specification for the ingredients given to their suppliers is far more detailed than the Pentagon's. Or it will be, given the new requirements for supply chain transparency in the financial reform just passed....

  • DBN||

    This isn't the list they provide their suppliers; it's the ingredients list for customers.

    Once again, if you can actually get your hands on the requirements the suppliers get, you'll see it consists of line after line of detailed specifications. Suppliers even have to send periodic samples to a McDonald's contracted lab for testing.

    Being extremely picky about components is a basic requirement of producing a uniform product on a large scale. It's a feature of both business and government.

  • The Government||

    That milk had better not be raw milk from some uncertified producer.

  • ||

    i know from personal experience that those things could kill. And whoever thought of the crunchy captain chicken entree should put in federal prison

  • ||

    Thankfully, they stopped issuing those in 2004 or 2005.

  • I am not the government's ATM||

    If this is the spec for brownies, what does the computer spec look like?

  • ||

    They don't have an answer for you, as they used-up all the storage space in the pentagon before they got 1/2 way done.

    And they can't upgrade till they complete those new specs....rock and a hard place.

  • juris imprudent||

    The spec is one thing, you probably also have to be CMMI level 3 to process the spec into product.

  • hmm||

    Whats the personnel requirement? Is there a command structure provided for the kitchen, or field of operational baking?

  • Sam Grove||

    what does the computer spec look like?

    It must be very expensive.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Katherine Mangu-Ward explains why the Pentagon’s brownie recipe stretches to a whopping 26 pages.

    Who writes the little introductory burbs? There wasn't an explanation of anything in the article.

  • ||

    You know it's a poorly written article when you have to read the comments to figure out what's going on.

  • ||

    I thought that's what the comments were *for*.

  • T||

    Look, I understand the mockery of a 26 page brownie spec. I really do. I've bought $750K worth of equipment with 6 page spec documents.

    But this is what happens when you want to keep out fraud, waste, and abuse while at the same time completely removing human judgment from the process. Don't blame the spec, blame the institutional drivers that make such a spec necessary.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    How the hell does a long spec keep out fraud?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Night Elf Mohawk,

    How the hell does a long spec keep out fraud?

    It doesn't. It is actually a ploy to keep competing bids out.

    I have been in purchasing for years. I *know* that a big list of specs is meant to keep competitors out so the purchaser would deal with only one or at most ver few privileged suppliers. I saw the exact same thing in government-run enterprises in Mexico, where bribes were exchanged like Magic cards.

  • Almanian||

    Bingo. Think "rent seeking" legislation. Overy-detailed specs on almost anything in bidness = targeted supplier.

    I outsourced medical services and training at my last facility with 2- page RFQ's. Cut costs 50% and improved services. Probably just lucky....

  • Scooby||

    So, you just picked the low bidder based on a 2 page definition of requirements? Or did you have one or more people subjectively pick the winner based on a multipage response to your RFQ?

  • DBN||

    Most of these don't look overspecified, though. They're pretty much just a regurgitation of FDA requirements.

    The specs basically say that you can't sell food to the government for our troops to eat that wouldn't pass inspection for civilian consumption. The story is a tempest in a teacup.

  • hmm||

    It doesn't. It is actually a ploy to keep competing bids out.

    Having written specs for bids on equipment that I wanted, this is exactly right.

    The reasoning for us was if we didn't write the specs down to minutia some pencil pushing CPA fucktard would go out and buy the exact opposite of what we needed, spend too much, and then piss and moan until the thing was depreciated off the books while the people stuck using it would glare at you every time they used it.

    The reasoning for people at this level is to keep their buddy Mr. Corporation suckling at the government teet.

  • ||

    piss and moan until the thing was depreciated off the books while the people stuck using it would glare at you every time they used it.

    And some people wonder about the causes of workplace shootings....

  • Scooby||

    T, I'm sure your 6 page spec incorporated a lot of industry standards by reference. I know my specifications for 6-7 figure equipment usually do.

    I don't get the point of this (repeated) post. If you are doing any kind of purchasing on the basis of open bidding, you have to objectively define the product. The more rigorously defined the product spec is, the more likely that the final product will meet the specifier's expectations.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I don't get the point of this (repeated) post. If you are doing any kind of purchasing on the basis of open bidding, you have to objectively define the product. The more rigorously defined the product spec is, the more likely that the final product will meet the specifier's expectations vendor who paid for the inside track will be to get the contract.

    FTFY

  • ||

    There is truth to both statements. Hugh is right in that typically the gov't contract specs are written to award the contract to a crony or whoever is paying kick-backs.

    In this case, T and Scooby are probably more right: these are brownies for MRE/rations, so they do have pretty specific requirements for nutrition, calories, preservatives, weight, and temperature resistance . If you look at the recipe, it's not calling for contractor-specific items; it's calling for a brownie that will be exactly the same, every time.

    You can't just put out a bid for "brownies" and have bidders send you some random brown thing in a bag. Even aside from fraud concerns, MRE weights cannot be variable, nor can there be any risk of contamination or food poisoning. Soldiers literally have to survive on nothing but MRE's for weeks at a time, so the consistency of the MRE's is paramount. Obviously it's far more important than taste.

    I've had the brownie before and it's insanely dry. But it will sit nicely in your GI tract for 2-3 weeks and keep you from having to dig a latrine.

  • Ron L||

    'Nother agreement.
    Bid-ticket items are often spec'd to limit competition, but the small-ticket items are spec'd to supposedly avoid that; the specs are written to remove *any* subjective choice in purchasing.
    The danger on that end is having the inspections and certs ending up costing 'way more than the item involved.
    There is no way to measure a bureaucrat's output, so measuring the input serves as a proxy; many pages of specs means a 'productive' bureaucrat, regardless of the result.

  • ||

    I will put it another way:
    Even if this was a private brownie for a private company's MRE for a private security force in a perfectly free market at the pinnacle of competitive forces, the requirements would still be 20x longer than a cookbook's simple brownie recipe.

    This is far more complex than that. It is not complexity (solely) added by a govt' bureaucrat for bureacracy's sake. A man has to be able to survive off what is in his MRE's for months without any other source of nutrition...and carry them in any climate, as well.

  • poopy||

    ...while at the same time completely removing human judgment from the process.

    Have you ever met a government worker who was not only willing but eager to substitute the judgment of a complete stranger for their own?

  • Sandi||

    That "brownie" looks strangely familiar.

  • ||

    I think I see the face of Jesus in that brownie.

  • Give Me Back My Liberty!||

    WIN!

  • ||

    If you leave it in the windowsill will the bugs eat it or leave it alone?

  • I am not the government's ATM||

    Swap the brown brownie bag with the blue bag they make me use when I walk the dog and that picture makes sense.

  • ||

    Didn't Reason cover this two months ago?

  • Tim||

    Not even the bacteria want to eat it...

  • ||

    Reason is missing out on some of the value of these on-line articles. Where is the hypertext link to the document referenced at the end of the article? I finally managed to find it (http://liw.iki.fi/liw/misc/MIL-C-44072C.pdf), but they should make this easier.

    As to the recipe itself, the government refers to it not as a "recipe" but as a "brownie formula" (section 3.3.1), which is amusing in itself. But I suppose that makes sense because they don't give a usable recipe, as the quantities of all ingredients are provided in terms of "parts by weight". Whatever the purpose of this document, it most certainly is NOT intended for use by military cooks, because it would be unusable in an actual kitchen.

    (I also enjoyed the portion [section 3.3.5] which requires that the brownie "be completely enrobed [!] with a continuous uniform chocolate coating (see 3.2.14) in an amount which shall be not less than 29 percent by weight of the finished product." Now THAT'S how you frost a brownie!

  • ||

    This is a Detail Specification. Most of them have been canceled and replaced by Performance Specifications. Detail Specs tell the manufacturer how to make an item in fine detail. Performance Specs tell the manufacturer what the item has to be able to do but not how they need to make it.

  • Jim||

    Yeah, the auto industry has done that for years, even for materials. They go back and forth on this, because a more detailed spec protects the OEM from surprises ("Oh, you didn't say it was supposed to do that - here's the cost to fix it"), however it also can drive up the cost by limiting options even when there isn't any intention to narrow it to a specific supplier. The only difference in the situation between government specs and private sector specs is that the competitive pressure to reduce costs and produce a profit will give the proper incentives to find the right balance. In the case of the military brownie, not sure if any of us has the ability to judge that since as someone pointed out it can be important to have it meet certain criteria in a field condition that wouldn't be satisfied by just any old brownie. However if they are applying this standard to cafeteria food served at bases, this is probably overkill.

  • Jason||

    Where's the link to the spec????

  • Brian White||

    If war-profiteers wouldn't otherwise sell brownies made from sawdust, the specs wouldn't have to be written so tightly.

    But when folks bit into those, I know we could count on Reason to explain that it was the government's fault were too dumb to specify what they wanted.

    But congratulations on pointing out that McDonalds' spec is three pages shorter...

  • ||

    I think if government spec'ed parts are only made by 1 or 2 suppliers, it'd be good business to open a few factories yourself to compete at 75% their price and with less hassle.

    For the brownie spec, as many have said before me, it's just a classification of what they want because they decide "Sugar" is a little too bit generic of a word. Saying that, it does intend to take all human judgment out of brownie making.

    I'm sure my brownies are way better than theirs, but I wouldn't make code.

  • ||

    What's the point of this article? Maybe to gloss over the fact that the american military is composed of millions of murdering scumbags who blow up children 'for a living'?

  • ||

    The brownies make us even more kill-crazy, which is good for business.

  • ||

    The recipe is 26 pages long because the instructions are written to remove all human judgement from the equation. It's also why the costs for the process of making them will be escalated by demands to measure to make sure "A minimum of 90 percent, by weight, of the pieces shall pass through a 4/16-inch diameter round hole screen and not more than 1 percent, by weight, shall pass through a 2/16-inch diameter round hole screen." The incentive of a private enterprise is to most efficiently deliver the good or service. The incentive of a bureaucracy is to avoid being the one caught making a mistake. It's not the at the folks at DoD are dumb or malicious. They just have the incentives inherent to their jobs.

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  • Anonymous||

    The real WTF is that no one in the Pentagon figured out that 2/16 and 4/16 could be simplified to 1/8 and 2/8.

    All in all, though, I'm surprised they didn't specify the walnut size tolerances in picas and the weight specifications in pennyweights.

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