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Full cost accounting (FCA) generally refers to the process of collecting and presenting information (costs as well as advantages) for each proposed alternative when a decision is necessary. A synonym, true cost accounting (TCA) is also often used. Experts consider both terms problematic as definitions of “true” and “full” are inherently subjective. See green economics for more on these problems
Full cost accounting embodies several key concepts that distinguish it from standard accounting techniques. The following list highlights the basic tenets of FCA.
۱٫ Accounting for costs rather than outlays
۲٫ Accounting for hidden costs and externalities
۳٫ Accounting for overhead and indirect costs
۴٫ Accounting for past and future outlays
۵٫ Accounting for costs according to lifecycle of the product
Costs rather not outlays
An outlay is an expenditure of cash to acquire or use a resource. A cost is the cash value of the resource as it is used. For example, an outlay is made when a vehicle is purchased, but the cost of the vehicle is incurred over its active life (e.g., 10 years). The cost of the vehicle must be allocated over a period of time because every year of its use contributes to the depreciation of the vehicle’s value.
With FCA, the value of goods and services is reflected as a cost even if no cash outlay is involved. One community might receive a grant from a state, for example, to purchase equipment. This equipment has value, even though the community did not pay for it in cash. The equipment, therefore, should be valued in an FCA analysis.
Overhead and indirect costs
FCA accounts for all overhead and indirect costs, including those that are shared with other public agencies. Overhead and indirect costs might include legal services, administrative support, data processing, billing, and purchasing.
Past and future outlays
Past and future cash outlays often do not appear on annual budgets under cash accounting systems. Past (or upfront) costs are initial investments necessary to implement services such as the acquisition of vehicles, equipment, or facilities. Future (or back-end) outlays are costs incurred to complete operations such as facility closure and postclosure care, equipment retirement, and post-employment health and retirement benefits.