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Ottawa cutting successfully, budget watchdog says – but little info on what’s cut

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page waits to testify before the Commons public accounts committee on May 3, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters

Ottawa is delivering on promises to hold the line on spending this year but departments continue to withhold important details as to what is being cut, according to new reports from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, released three items on the PBO website Wednesday, including a letter to all federal deputy ministers asking them to provide the details he first asked for months ago.

Still, in two other reports, the PBO provides a broad overview of federal spending trends.

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One report specifically focuses on spending over the first three months of the fiscal year that began April 1. It generally finds that federal departments and agencies have spent the same amount as they did during the first quarter of the previous fiscal year.

Spending on major transfer payments such as Old Age Security and the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces is up, but that is largely offset by decreases in direct program spending by federal departments. So far this year, federal departments are spending 5 per cent less on operating expenditures.

The PBO analysis is based on quarterly reporting by federal departments. The PBO says the quality of these departmental reports is improving, but there are still important gaps of information.

"Less than one-third of organizations affected by the 2012 Budget reduction initiative explain the operational impacts," states one of the reports released Wednesday.

The PBO's assessment of spending trends is largely in line with the monthly Fiscal Monitor reports published by Finance Canada.

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