Baldrige at risk – a price tag on quality?

Many countries have a national quality award. In the U.S., we’ve had the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award since 1987.

On Nov. 10, we learned that a fiscal commission created by President Obama has targeted the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program for elimination in a round of budget cuts and tax increases. Read ASQ’s Baldrige letter of support.

Any vote taken by the fiscal commission is advisory—Congressional approval of potential cuts is the next step. ASQ, along with its Washington consultants and other organizations, has devised a strategy to help keep the program alive.

As I read the supporting language—“businesses should already have enough incentives to maintain the quality of their products and services without awards from the Baldrige National Quality Program”—I must say I had a chemical reaction. How could the report’s authors so misunderstand the purpose and value of this program?

The purpose has never been awards, and it has never been aimed at products and services. The Baldrige Program serves to:

  1. Identify and recognize role model organizations
  2. Establish criteria for evaluating improvement efforts
  3. Disseminate and share best practices

I wonder if any member of the commission reviewed the program, spoke to the CEO of a recipient company, or attended the Quest for Excellence Conference? I wonder if the authors made any connection to the program and the healthcare crisis in America. Or whether they reviewed the case study of Montgomery County Public Schools and wondered, as I do, why more schools system aren’t using the Baldrige criteria to manage improved performance.

I guess there’s an argument to be made saying the program is 20 years old and has served its purpose. I don’t think anyone who’s aware of the unmet opportunity for improvement would agree.

The Baldrige award is, in my opinion, a model program and a return on investment for American taxpayers in a multiple of the cost. Just see the list of recipients—including manufacturers, services, small businesses, and education, healthcare and nonprofit organizations—and read their success stories: Convince me that the U.S., or any country, benefits from leaving excellence to chance.

I’m all for fiscal restraint, but I can think of many other things I’d rather do without. Bringing attention to, and celebrating America’s best-managed organizations, is not one of them. These organizations do everything from improving our competitiveness to creating jobs to saving lives.

What does the voice of quality say at a time like this? Globally, what is the value of national quality or excellence award programs?