‘Death by a Thousand Cuts:’ Memo to PM questions across the board budget cuts

Reassuring to know that PCO is doing its job and bringing these studies to the PM’s attention.

Last line is priceless and applies to the Canadian context and Government approach:

In a Jan. 27 memorandum to the prime minister, obtained under the Access to Information Act, the Clerk of the Privy Council briefed Stephen Harper on how austerity measures were being assessed in Australia.

“The authors found that prolonged cuts of this nature result in a loss of workforce capability, public sector productivity and innovation, and trust and confidence in public sector institutions,” states the memo.

The memo details how public trust is undermined “as programs become less efficient and effective in the wake of across-the-board cuts, and as mistakes and oversights occur.”

The study recommends that a better way to trim costs is by using efficiency audits of departments and by engaging staff to find effective and efficient new ways of delivering programs and services.

As the memo summarizes the Australian study, “skills shortages are having a significant impact on government operations, resulting in higher costs for recruitment and training over time, the appointment of more expensive private sector contractors for information technology, and diminished procurement expertise.”

Large portions of the four-page memo are blacked out.

The Prime Minister’s Office says it receives many memos and would not comment on the views in the Australian study.

“I will say that our government is proud of the steps we have taken to trim the size of government bureaucracy and ensure that tax dollars are being spent on programs and services that benefit Canadians,” spokesman Jason MacDonald said in an email.

….The study, based on austerity measures taken by national and regional governments in Australia, notes that politicians habitually claim cuts will be efficient and painless.

“In practice, however, claims that administrative budgets can be cut without affecting services are likely to be made only by politicians who have evaded explicit and responsible government decision-making, or want to evade it, or who are prepared to re-define services in order to evade it.”

‘Death by a Thousand Cuts:’ Memo to PM questions across the board budget cuts (pay wall)

And, in perhaps a concrete illustration of this, the Auditor General’s report on the sad state of Library and Archives Canada:

The Ottawa-based institution is supposed to collect and preserve government documents, photos, films, artworks and other materials of historical value and make them available for public use.

“Overall, we found that Library and Archives Canada was not acquiring all the archival records it should from federal institutions,” the report says.

The acquisition of federal records is governed by directives issued to departments and agencies, but some are out of date because they do not account for the records of new programs or changes to existing ones.

Since 2009, Library and Archives Canada was able to update the directives for just 30 of 195 federal agencies, meaning it could not ensure it was acquiring all retired records of archival value. As a result many records were stuck in limbo, awaiting Library and Archives’ decision as to whether they should be saved or destroyed.

Some of the 98,000 boxes of records in the backlog have been there for several decades. The auditor found the backlog had grown over the years and there was no approved plan to eliminate it despite allocation of $600,000 this year to tackle part of the problem.

Researchers for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told the auditors the uneven quality of archival finding aids meant missing descriptions of box contents, as well as inaccurate or incomplete listings.

Library and Archives says digital records will represent the “format of choice” by 2017. However, there was no overall corporate strategy for the preservation of digital data, the report says.

The institution spent $15.4 million developing a trusted digital repository for records, but due to a change in approach it was never used.

Auditor General: Archives sitting on mountain of unsorted documents

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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