Thank you Mr. Co-Chair, Honourable Senators and Members.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you about the estimates in the context of the Library of Parliament.
What I particularly like about my work is being able to work every day with highly qualified and professional people. Some of them are here today, and with your permission, I would like to introduce them to you. Next to me, as the Chairman said, is Ms. Sue Stimpson, Director General of Corporate Services, and Ms. Lise Chartrand, Director of Finance. Also here are Sonia L'Heureux, Assistant Parliamentary Librarian, Cynthia Hubbertz, Director of the Information and Document Resource Service, Diane Brydon, Director General of Learning and Access Services, and Ms. Lynn Brodie, who handles our accommodation requirements
All these people, as well as Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, make up senior management at the Library. It is thanks to this team that I can get the work entrusted to me done.
As members will recall, I appeared before you just a few weeks ago and laid out in some detail the operations of the library--the work we do, the products we provide, and the plans we have for the future.
In particular, I reviewed the strategic priorities we had established three years ago as part of the overall renewal of the Library of Parliament. Those priorities were modernizing our knowledge management capacity, strengthening our management support capacity, and getting the new Parliamentary Budget Officer function up and running.
I reported to members on how the library has responded to changing economic realities by seeking greater efficiencies, realigning our organization, and focusing on our core services. Part of that restructuring dealt with our research services, including the creation of a new unit to provide forward-looking monitoring of events and issues. I outlined our efforts to reboot our IT capacity, which is central to our vision for a virtual library; our digitization strategy; and additional electronic services to members.
As well, I reported on some of the changes we've made based on the perception audit conducted last year, including the expansion of learning opportunities to members through podcasts and seminars.
In many respects, while this has been a challenging year from both a budgetary and a management perspective, it has been a year of opportunity. We have, for example, increased our ability to manage and share information, enhanced the corporate infrastructure, and offered members the services of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Animating all our efforts and initiatives is a single-minded determination to better support you in your work and to provide you with the independent and reliable advice that is central to your role as legislators and representatives. That is the pith and purpose of the library, the central goal to which all of our activities are directed.
Today I thought I would expand a bit on a couple of the issues that arose during my last appearance before you. The first is the budgetary process that we went through last fall to prepare for this new fiscal year.
Last year, as we always do, we based our budget submission on an analysis of the risks we face in delivering on our mandate to support Parliament. Obviously we have to take into account the current operating environment as well as our achievements. A good example of an achievement would be the strengthened management capacity we have created over the past two years. We also try to demonstrate the services that Parliament can expect to see in the year ahead, based, of course, on the level of investment in the library.
As always, we confront some tough realities. One reality is that we are a comparatively small organization with a very large job to do. We serve over 400 parliamentarians in the Senate and the House of Commons, as well as their staff, and we do this in a world of explosively expanding information.
Our budgets typically increase by percentages in line with other organizations on the Hill, but because they increase from a small base, the actual dollar increases continue to constrain our ability to fully respond to parliamentarians' needs. The original internal draft of our budget proposal for 2009-10 reflected the vision and plan for library renewal that was presented to, and endorsed by, this committee last year. It was a concrete proposal to deliver on the next stage of renewal, which embodied all the planning that had gone into making this a reality, but between the preparation of this internal draft in September and the approval of a greatly scaled-down final version in mid-December, the world found itself in an economic upheaval.
During these months between September and December, the library's senior staff worked with me to demonstrate that we were not naive about recognizing the impact of the economic environment, so we prepared a budget submission that would allow us to move forward in a couple of key areas while maintaining core products and services.
We knew that modernizing the library's research services and its IM/IT infrastructure would be essential to meeting the information management needs of a 21st century Parliament and providing appropriate support to senators and members of Parliament. And we believed that moving forward in these two areas would provide the springboard that would help us develop our other services more quickly in the future. So we looked long and hard across the whole organization to identify our core services. We determined where we could reallocate from low- to high-priority areas in support of you and your work. It was a bit of a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it was far from easy for any of us.
I would like to pay tribute to my management team--at all levels--for the way they were able to buckle down, to see beyond their pet projects or enthusiasms and be guided by a broader view than their own bailiwick. They have all taken and supported actions based on what would be best for Parliament. For some of them, it has meant giving up or postponing activities very dear to their hearts.
Let me turn now to another issue that arose during my March 12 appearance, and that is the amount allocated to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Let me be clear that there was no cut to this budget for this fiscal year 2009-10. None. In fact, the PBO received a small increase consistent with the rest of the library's budget. By the same token, the PBO was asked to live within its means, like every other service head in the library.
As I said a moment ago, in these challenging economic times, we have all had to trim our sails. We have all had to make some sacrifices. For example, the overall reference levels submitted for the entire library prior to the economic crisis taking hold were much higher than the budget estimates with which we are working today. I think confusion arose from the fact that, when the PBO position was established, a proposed amount was earmarked for the library's future reference level for planning purposes. Over time, what had only been hypothetically set aside was portrayed as cast in stone.
As members know, it is normal practice with new legislation or policy initiatives to establish a notional amount that allows budgetary and operational planning. Once the operations are actually in place, however, a business analysis is prepared to see if it supports the notional amount proposed. Until this is done, the notional funds are not available to the organization for spending. This is exactly what happened in the case of the PBO. A notional amount of $2.7 million was identified but never officially requested or authorized. Indeed, this amount does not appear anywhere in the library's budget.
So what has happened since? Once the PBO was created, the library proposed a structure, staffing levels, and operational plan based on two key provisions of the Federal Accountability Act. The first was that approximately three-quarters of PBO's main functions would be demand-driven on the basis of requests from parliamentarians and committees. The second was that the PBO would be integrated within the Library of Parliament.
When the time came to actually fund the PBO, the library could not predict what the demand would be for his services. However, we estimated that two-thirds of the notional allotment would be a reasonable amount with which to establish the position. At the same time, we knew, given the enthusiastic support for the function from parliamentarians, that additional resources might be required in the future.
Unfortunately, the library cannot complete a fully costed business analysis. This is because the PBO has chosen to operate under a model that is not consistent with the legislation that created his position.
Indeed, the PBO's current path proposes staffing and resources at levels above the library's estimates for the function. Moreover, the intention to operate outside the library will have a significant impact on the costs of this function, as the efficiencies originally anticipated will not materialize.
To sum up, the library simply cannot determine whether the budget pressures asserted by the Parliamentary Budget Officer are due to demand for his services or whether they arise from his decision to operate outside the framework established by law.
The final item I would like to discuss is the rather unique process that exists for the formulation and approval of the budget for the Library of Parliament. As members know, the House of Commons budget is reviewed and approved by the Board of Internal Economy, and the Senate budget by the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration. These committees both play the critical role of approving the annual budget estimates, examining expenditures, approving salary scales for non-unionized employees, and authorizing the negotiation of collective agreements.
In the case of the Library of Parliament, however, there is no comparable management body. Our budget goes directly to the Speakers of the Senate and the House for their consideration.
Now, I hasten to say that the library has always been a good steward of public funds. It has always held itself to the highest standards of accountability. Successive years of unqualified independent audits of our books--I think we tabled them at the last meeting--testify to that.
Still, the absence of a board of internal review raises legitimate questions and concerns. It means that this committee, with its unique insights and expertise on the Library of Parliament, only becomes involved after the estimates have been tabled in the House of Commons. The result? This committee can only reduce or reject those estimates during the supply process.
With respect, Mr. Co-Chair, I believe this does the Speakers and Parliament a disservice, and I see a much more active role for this committee. That is why, last year, I proposed to the Speakers that they ask you to review the main estimates, and any supplementary estimates of the Library of Parliament, through a subcommittee, perhaps a steering committee, in advance of tabling.
This subcommittee would have representatives from both the Senate and the House of Commons, as well as from each of the recognized parties in both chambers. Its members would develop expertise and familiarity with the library's financial affairs, enabling it to play a critical role in reviewing not only the estimates but also our plans, priorities, and performance.
I believe this enhanced role is consistent with the spirit of subsection 74(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act, which anticipates the joint committee assisting the Speakers of both chambers in the making of orders and regulations “and for the proper expenditure of moneys voted by Parliament”.
The involvement of this committee at an earlier stage in the appropriations process would produce at least three clear benefits. First, it would provide valuable assistance to the Speakers in carrying out their functions under the Parliament of Canada Act. Second, it would allow parliamentarians to have more input into the library's budget and investment priorities. Third, it would subject the Library of Parliament to the same kind of review as the Senate and the House of Commons.
As members know, while there has always been provision for a joint committee on the library, its role has never been consistently developed. Indeed, your status is unique. It does not oversee a government department or its activities, nor is it, strictly speaking, a management committee. It is, instead, an advisory committee whose job is to assist the two Speakers with respect to the direction and control of the Library of Parliament.
I believe my proposal would clearly enhance your activities and make this a more effective management committee, one whose expertise could be employed in reviewing and advising on the library's priorities, plans, and funding proposals as they are being developed.
Mr. Co-Chair, I am sure that the committee members have many questions for us. Allow me to conclude the way I started, which is to remind them that the Library exists to support Parliament by providing it with information. That is why we work tirelessly day after day. I have the good fortune to direct a team of 400 highly qualified analysts, librarians and information specialists, and it is an honour to work with them.
I am also delighted about the idea of being able to continue to work with your committee. Your advice will help to ensure that the Library will continue to be able to serve all parliamentarians, now and in the future.
Thank you very much.