What Is a Soft Paper Report?

A soft paper report is a reference to a lack of confidence in a report's facts or general disrespect for a report's author. A soft paper report has only one use—as toilet paper—which is how its name was derived.

Key Takeaways

  • A soft paper report is a report whose contents lack credibility.
  • The name is derived from toilet paper.
  • The contents of a soft paper report should be verified by validating its contents.

Understanding Soft Paper Report

Reports are almost always subjective, as even hard facts have to be interpreted. In business, it is important not to rely on everything you hear and read, and instead to do a little homework yourself. Otherwise you could find yourself relying on a report that is only good for toilet paper.

Example of a Soft Paper Report

In an Oct. 1992 Report to Congress by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the GAO accused NASA of producing financial reports that were based on unreliable data. In other words, the GAO accused NASA of producing soft paper financial reports.

The GAO found that NASA's internal controls and financial management systems did not provide accurate and reliable financial information for effective management of the agency, especially when it came to oversight of the substantial amount of assets and funds under the control of its contractors. The report discussed in detail the deficiencies in NASA's financial systems and controls that contributed to the financial management weaknesses along with recommendations for corrective actions.

Specifically, the GAO report indicated that NASA's internal controls, policies and procedures, and financial management systems did not provide adequate assurance that its nearly $14 billion appropriations in allocated in fiscal year 1991 were properly used and accurately accounted for and reported. For instance, contractor-reported cost and performance data was not always received, and program analysts inappropriately adjusted contractor cost data without supporting documentation. In some cases, these practices served to conceal cost overruns, underruns, and instances where costs exceeded obligations or budget plans.

For example, the GAO identified one case where cost reports showed significant cost growth for developing the space shuttle's waste collections systems, but it only took limited action to control costs until the GAO identified a 900% increase over the initial estimate. In addition, it said NASA's internal controls did not ensure that its reported $13.4 billion in government-owned, contractor-held property was properly accounted for or that its reported value was accurate.

This situation presented a major problem because NASA managers used contractor-reported cost data as a primary source of information to manage billions of dollars in contractor-operated programs and projects, establish and update accounts payable, and determine budget needs.