11/03/2011 05:00 EDT | Updated 01/03/2012 05:12 EST

Budget Cuts Impact Starting To Show: Review

OTTAWA - A review of the federal government's books shows some departments are beginning to come clean about the effect of budget freezes and cuts.

And the information these departments are providing appears to contradict the government's own perception of how much detail it can share.

The federal government began producing quarterly reports this year in a bid to improve the timeliness of financial information available to Parliament.

The office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer decided to review the first batch of reports for the period ended June 30, 2011, to see if the documents produced were useful.

The review found that the reports bring Canada in line with other OECD countries in terms of how financial information is shared.

But the quality of the information was uneven.

"There is a wide degree of variation in the level of disclosure contained in the quarterly reports," the review found.

"While most exceed the minimum guidelines set by the Treasury Board Secretariat, many organizations do not provide sufficient detail to fully reconcile the change in spending authorities from one year to the next."

The review found less than a quarter of departments discussed the financial impact of having their operating budgets frozen in 2010 and how they were managing the change.

While the figure is low, the PBO said it's notable, as Treasury Board had earlier insisted it was impossible to estimate that information.

In a letter appended to the report, Treasury Board said government financial documents only detail money being spent, not money saved, "...nor is there any means of providing a comprehensive list of all initiatives or transactions that have not been approved."

While all departments had their budgets frozen, 12 were also selected for a strategic review in 2010.

The savings were touted in the last federal budget as amounting to over $194.5 million for 2011-2012 but how the money was saved wasn't explained.

Of the 11 departments which submitted quarterly reports, only two detailed what got cut.

"At the same time, the level of disclosure provided by these organizations (e.g. Public Works and Government Services Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat) sets a high bar for transparency, identifying the specific reductions in employee head count and corresponding activities."

The quarterly report from Public Works says the agency was asked to find $35.6 million in savings and is cutting 687 jobs over the next three years. But it said it has found new jobs already for some of the workers being affected by the cuts.

The Treasury Board report says that agency found $11.5 million in savings and is eliminating 84 positions over three years. It also closed up its regional communications network which it described as providing "regional communications intelligence" to the Privy Council Office.

The review comes as all government departments are awaiting the Conservatives' decisions on which programs will be cut in the search for $4 billion in savings this year to help pare down the deficit.

Every government department has been asked to present scenarios to a special cabinet committee on how they could save 5 or 10 per cent.

The results of that review will be presented in the 2012-2013 budget expected this spring.

The quarterly reports are required to be posted online within 60 days of the end of the quarter.