Since people are still throwing spears at it, I figured I should know more about it than I do. It turns out, the basic idea was to reduce the government's involvement and allow contractors to do things their own way, as efficiently as possible, without undue influence or involvement by the government.
Maj Henry Pandes wrote a pretty good article about it, if you want to read more. James Gill wrote a short response to Maj Pandes' article. Also a good read.
Unfortunately, many people today seem to have decided that the problem with TSPR was that it involved too much trust. Trust is bad, they conclude. We can't trust those slimy contractors. They're bad, they're bad!
Hold on. Let's not get the wrong conclusion here.
After a bit more investigation and reflection, it seems to me that the problem with TSPR wasn't trust, but rather ignorance. Instead of reasonable delegation, we turned it into abdication. The government wasn't merely hands-off, it was eyes-shut. Anyone surprised that didn't work out very well?
The truth is, I think the government should trust contractors more than we do (as I've written elsewhere). But that doesn't mean we should take the "wake me up when it's ready" approach. We can still be involved and informed, without turning it into excessive meddling.
More to the point, trust isn't weakness, naivete and stupidity. Trust requires strength, judgment and wisdom. A lack of trust indicates, among other things, a lack of trustworthiness and a significant degree of unreflective foolishness. Yeah, I said it - foolishness. Real rogues trust their partners, 'cause that's a smart and strong thing to do.
The TSPR approach may have been fatally flawed from the start, or it may have been a good idea badly executed. I still don't know. But what I do know is that if we think the lesson of TSPR's failure is to not trust people, we've learned a horribly wrong lesson.