Agencies Must Understand True Costs to Save Long-Term

The good news? Coming up with reliable cost estimates isn’t as complicated as you think.

To cut costs, agencies first need to know what their costs are -- what’s driving costs and, more importantly, what’s needlessly driving costs higher than necessary. But in this area, we’re often flying blind. Some agencies and programs can’t tell you with any reliability what their activities cost. The good news is coming up with reliable estimates of what things cost isn’t complicated. But it’s an important first step in finding ways to cut budgets responsibly in a time of unprecedented budget uncertainty.

Do you know what’s driving the costs of your programs? Is there a cheaper way to get the job done? Could you recover some of your costs through reimbursement or some other means? Too often, the answer is: we don’t know. And GAO’s reporting on this particular issue bears this out. As they write in their audit of the government’s financial statements, “Unreliable cost information affects the federal government’s ability to control and reduce costs, assess performance, evaluate programs, and set fees to recover costs where required or authorized.”

At Grant Thornton, we survey chief management officers throughout government to document and analyze their major challenges. In virtually every case, CXOs tell us management challenge number one is the budget -- making do with less. Whether under a continuing resolution, post sequestration, or even if sequestration is avoided, cuts are coming. Before picking up the budget axe, agencies need to take a hard look at what’s driving their costs and where cutting will do the least damage.

Whether you’re a department or agency, a major program, or a small office, a few simple steps can help you measure your costs and find ways to cut or recover them with the least amount of pain. Analyzing the relationship between an agency’s mission, its goals, objectives, and work activities gives leaders and managers the insights they need to surgically weed out ineffective, duplicate or unnecessary functions from their organizations. And if you are not taking the time to make careful cost cutting choices based on reliable data, you’re performing surgery with a blindfold on. For more information visit

We would like to know – do you agree that the budget is the greatest challenge facing government? What have you implemented that has been successful?

Robert Shea is a Principal in Grant Thornton’s Global Public Sector Practice. He worked at the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as Associate Director for Administration and Government Performance. Before joining OMB, Robert served as Counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs where, in addition to general oversight of Executive Branch management, he advised Committee leadership on the status of implementation of the U.S. statutory framework for performance-based government, including the Government Performance and Results Act and the Chief Financial Officers Act. He was Legislative Director for Congressman Pete Sessions (TX) from 1997 to 1999, where he organized the Results Caucus, a group of Members of Congress dedicated to results-based management and solving many of the government’s major management problems. Robert was a Professional Staff Member with the House Committee on Government Reform from 1995 through 1996. There he had responsibility for examining the economy and efficiency of government programs, and acted as liaison with the government’s Inspectors General. Robert holds a Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Connecticut College, New London, Connecticut.


Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.