Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill today.
The basic mandate of the Department of Public Works and Government Services is "to provide cost effective and efficient delivery of common services to government departments and agencies". This seemingly simple statement of responsibilities in fact represents an enormous challenge, given that the department must deliver a vast range of diverse products and services to more than 150 federal departments and agencies with physical locations scattered all across Canada.
The department bears much of the responsibility for fulfilling our government's directive that the administration of its operations must be made more efficient and that waste and duplication must be rooted out throughout the service.
As the primary provider of common services for the government it must take a lead role in meeting the government's goals in that respect. I think this is a good argument for the amalgamation and centralization of common services for which the department was formed, and for the bill which will give legislative force to its operations.
In pursuit of its mandate Public Works and Government Services must try to achieve greater levels of both standardization and flexibility in its operations. Standardization in such areas as communications systems, procurement processes and so forth can make a real and positive contribution to reducing administrative costs throughout government. In its service to client departments, Public Works and Government Services must also strive to be as flexible as possible so as to address the real needs and to respond quickly and effectively to them.
One of the techniques used by the department to give it flexibility of action, which has been carried forward from previous legislation, is the use of revolving funds. A revolving fund is essentially a revenue spending authority. It is a standing authority like a line of credit which given to the organization enables it to use its revenues to pay all or a portion of its expenditures.
The objective is that all revenues will equal all expenditures over time. It is the continuous authority to draw on the consolidated revenue fund up to a specified limit, as opposed to an annual appropriation of cash. Revolving funds are particularly useful in facilitating large scale, multi-year projects, the type of projects Public Works and Government Services Canada frequently undertakes in the service of its clients.
Bill C-52 provides for the transfer of six such revolving funds from their existing legislation with no change in their terms and conditions. These include architectural, engineering and reality services; consulting and audit Canada; the Canada Communication Group; government telecommunications and informatic services; optional services; and the defence production revolving fund.
In addition the bill establishes one new revolving fund for the disposition of real property. The new real property disposition revolving fund is being established to permit the repayment of expenditures made in the disposal of real property from the proceeds. At present parliamentary appropriations are used to fund these expenditures.
As members are aware, the new department and one of its predecessors, Public Works Canada, have been quite active over the past few years in disposing of unwanted and unneeded federal property which represented an unnecessary cost to the Canadian taxpayer. The establishment of the revolving fund will streamline and simplify the administration of this process in the future.
The Minister of Public Works and Government Services was recently made aware of certain practices within the Canada Communication Group in which the revolving fund was used to carry over funding from one fiscal year to another.
The minister responded quickly to deal with this problem. Working in conjunction with Treasury Board the minister took a number of steps to rectify the situation, including identifying and confirming the exact amount of funds that had been deferred for each department, invoicing departments for expenditures already made against these funds in the current year, immediately taking steps to return these funds to the consolidated revenue fund as a refund of expenditures for prior years, conducting a refund of all the revolving funds in the department, and instituting a series of processes and systems to improve management control over them.
The speed and decisiveness with which the minister responded to this problem attests to the government's absolute determination to govern with integrity and to take every possible measure to restore public confidence in the way in which government conducts its business. It also provides a good example of the value of amalgamating the government's common services within one portfolio.
In dealing with the situation the minister was not only able to correct the particular problem that had occurred in one area but also to take steps to ensure that similar problems could not arise in other similar operations within his department.
The new Department of Public Works and Government Services has demonstrated in its first year of operation that it is as valid and viable operation. It has already saved taxpayers' money by the elimination of duplication. It provides one-stop shopping for its client departments and a central focal point for suppliers and contractors to government. It has controlled a valuable body of specialized expertise in government administration and improved the government's ability to serve Canadians efficiently and effectively.