“Close enough for government work”. What you read on the internet isn’t always the whole story. I believe that I am one of a small, select group of tradesmen who perform plumbing repairs which have the high quality of workmanship in the tradition of the original meaning of this phrase. I have always, and for the foreseeable future, am looking for additional customers who appreciate and value my kind of approach. Long lasting parts, high quality, etc. and lowest price are contradictions in terms. And cheap customers are not long lasting either as they perpetually switching service providers. On of the reasons they switch is that these types of people choose the guys who quote a low-ball price over the phone and then get hit with a much higher cost when the work is performed. To save time and to be honest with a caller, I rarely estimate over the phone because it is impossible to judge without seeing the situation in person. And when I do provide an estimate I strive to keep the final charge close to the estimate.

I know we all might agree with the modern use of this phrase, but it is interesting to note (what I believe is) the true history of the phrase.

Federal Accounting Standards: Close Enough for Government Work? By David L. Cotton, CPA, CFE, CGFM

The genesis of the phrase goes back to the World War II era when the country’s industrial complex became the military industrial complex. Shipbuilders, airframe assemblers, automotive corporations, and other companies united with the government in the war effort found themselves needing to meet new sets of specifications—military specifications, or Mil-Specs. These Mil-Specs were more strict and precise, requiring parts to be made with closer tolerances and higher degrees of quality than similar parts made for commercial use. Hence, during the quality control and inspection processes, an engineer might find a part intended for commercial use that was of particularly high quality and declare, “this one’s close enough for government work.”

Sometime during the past 50 years, the phrase took on the opposite meaning. Turned around, it now is used derisively to imply that if the work is for the government, it doesn’t need to be exact—just close enough…exactly how and when the meaning got turned around is unclear.

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, has this in Chapter 35 describing the
national cemetery in Vicksburg:

“…perfect in its charm. Everything about this cemetery suggests the hand of the national Government. The Government’s work is always conspicuous for excellence, solidity, thoroughness, neatness. The Government does its work well in the first place, and then takes care of it.”

I strive to always provide the best quality parts, service and workmanship in the performance of my job. With that said I change my choices as I discover better alternatives to the one’s I had been using previously. I believe that the reason we don’t have a common phrase for high quality work is the predominant, overwhelming consumer focus on (cheap) price. I believe that a whole generation of American’s has been successfully brainwashed into forgetting what their parent’s generation knew: “You get what you pay for”. You either get this or you don’t. People give off very obvious clues as to what camp they fall into. I look for those clues when I decide who I work for (or if there will be a second time).