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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (R), Treasury Board President Tony Clement (C) an Foreign Minister John Baird stand to vote on an opposition amendment to the government’s omnibus budget bill, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 14, 2012. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (R), Treasury Board President Tony Clement (C) an Foreign Minister John Baird stand to vote on an opposition amendment to the government’s omnibus budget bill, in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 14, 2012.

(Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Ottawa cutting programs aimed at ensuring tax dollars well spent Add to ...

The federal government is cutting programs designed to ensure tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently as part of its push to save $5-billion a year and balance the books before the next election.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is the lead minister in charge of finding internal savings, is overseeing cuts to two programs that affect the government-wide review of spending.The two Treasury Board programs – called expenditure management and fiscal management – are both facing cuts over the next three years.

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Over the first six months of the current fiscal year, expenditure management spending is down 32 per cent, while financial management spending is up by 4 per cent, according to short-term tracking of government spending by the Parliamentary Budget Office. However the Conservative government’s longer-term spending plans show expenditure management is facing a permanent 5 per cent cut and financial management will be cut by 26 per cent, according to the PBO.

A federal government website describes these two programs in glowing terms, stating that they help “maximize value for money,” prepare spending reports to Parliament, promote “good financial management practices across government” and deliver specific services such as accounting and internal audit policies.

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, used to work in the Treasury Board’s expenditure management division and said it does important work challenging internal spending plans before they are approved by cabinet.

“They’re making deep cuts in these areas,” he said. “They have an important due diligence function for the executive.”

Mr. Page – who is taking the government to Federal Court for refusing to provide details on budget cuts – said there could be a link between the two issues.

“Maybe one of the reasons why Parliament isn’t seeing spending plans is because of large cuts that are taking place in expenditure management and financial management,” he said. “Those are questions that need to be put to the President of Treasury Board.”

Treasury Board argues that it can find savings in these areas through measures such as less paper reporting and fewer staff without affecting service levels.

“With these changes, we are sharpening our focus on supporting management excellence and accountability across government,” said Matthew Conway, Mr. Clement’s press secretary.

On Thursday the PBO released a report that tracks government spending by specific program activity over the first six months of the fiscal year. The numbers provide a sense of how federal departments are implementing the cuts announced in the March, 2012, budget.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had described the budget cuts as “back office stuff,” but Mr. Page argues the numbers don’t bear that out.

The PBO notes that spending on “internal services” is actually up 8 per cent, while front-line services are facing spending cuts.

For instance, spending on a program at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada called “Canada’s Citizen-Centered Service” dropped from $146-million to $55-million over the first six months of the year, compared to the same period the year before – a cut of about 63 per cent.

A federal government website suggests this program is the very definition of front-line service, providing “Canadians with a one-stop, easy-to-access, personalized service in person, by telephone, Internet and via mail.”

A spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said some spending that had previously been reported under “Citizen-Centred Service” has moved to Shared Services Canada, which is another department. The spokesperson said the reduction in spending this year is closer to $7.5-million, which reflects announced cuts to Service Canada Centres for Youth, as well as less spending on term and casual employees.

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