It’s a Stretch

Four tried-and-true ways to trim fat from your office budget-and avoid being asked to cut from the bone.

The general budget freeze President Obama proposed in February put penny pinchers in vogue. With mandatory spending programs, net interest on the debt and dampened tax revenues squeezing discretionary accounts, federal managers now know that they will face mostly stagnant budgets for some years to come. That means they will have to squeeze efficiency out of the dollars they already have to maintain quality services.

Over the years, penny pinchers across government have found numerous ways to trim the fat from their office budgets and avoid being asked to cut from the bone. Savings often are hiding out in agency operations that have not been adequately scrutinized. The key is to know where to look. Here are four targets that managers have found to save thousands, hundreds of thousands-even millions-of dollars that can be redirected to support agencies' central missions.

Buy in bulk. Equipment and supplies is an obvious place to find savings. Rather than deny employees staples or paper clips, pool your buying power with other offices or agencies to get better prices on bulk purchases. The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments combined their purchases of pharmaceuticals for their medical facilities and saved millions of dollars. In another instance, agencies that relied on maps got together on a joint contract for buying satellite data, again saving millions.

Manage the mail. If your agency has a mail manager, ask for help cutting postage costs.

You might be able to save money using bulk rates rather than first-class rates. You also could find ways to minimize the size or weight of mailings to reduce costs. Even better, avoid mail entirely by signing up your customers, clients or stakeholders for e-mail delivery.

Print less. During his tenure as Office of Management and Budget director in the first few years of this decade, Mitch Daniels got in a major fight with the Government Printing Office, which agencies are legally required to use for many printing jobs.

Daniels tried to end the monopoly, GPO fought back, and in the end they agreed to a compromise aimed at reducing agencies' printing costs. As this decade begins, people are increasingly uninterested in reading government documents on paper. They'd much rather have them in electronic form. That goes for lots of traditionally printed products such as employee newsletters. Switching to electronic delivery not only saves agencies money, it also caters to their audiences' changing preferences.

Travel. Technology has supposedly reduced the need for travel, since more meetings and training sessions can be conducted via teleconference and videoconference. But unlike the growing desire for electronic document delivery, people still seem to prefer to meet in person for many purposes, especially training. And much government travel is unavoidable, whether for law enforcement or auditing or regulatory purposes. The National Labor Relations Board found that face-to-face witness interviews were more effective than videoconferencing. Rather than invest in expensive and unproven technologies, you might be better off finding ways to cut airline, hotel and other travel expenses but still send employees to interact directly with the people your agency deals with.

As the federal budget crunch deepens in coming years, someone is going to start cutting. It could be Congress. It could be the Office of Management and Budget. It could be agency headquarters staff.

Operational-level managers who themselves do some cutting can help make sure that the bone doesn't get sliced with the fat.

Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


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