The Permanence of Temporary Services: The Reliance of Canadian Federal Departments on Policy and Management Consultants

By Howlett, Michael; Migone, Andrea | Canadian Public Administration, September 2013 | Go to article overview

The Permanence of Temporary Services: The Reliance of Canadian Federal Departments on Policy and Management Consultants


Howlett, Michael, Migone, Andrea, Canadian Public Administration


There has been growing interest in the state of policy capacity in government and the use of external policy and management consultants, but data informing studies have hitherto been limited. What light do new data from Proactive Disclosure reports shed on the extent of management consulting in the Government of Canada?

On porte un interet croissant a la capacite qu'ont les pouvoirs publics d'elaborer des politiques et au recours a des experts-conseils externes en matiere de politique et de gestion, mais les etudes reposant sur des donnees ont jusqua present ete limitees. Quel eclairage les nouvelles donnees des rapports de Divulgation proactive jette-t-il sur l'ampleur du recours aux consultants en gestion au sein du gouvernement du Canada?

The use of external consultants in government is an increasingly important focus of concern (ANAO 2001; United Kingdom, House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts 2010; Auditor General of Canada 2012a, 2012b). Two correlated questions sit at the crux of this concern: how to control costs and how to assess the effect of consultants on government activities. This is true of the use of consultants generally and, more specifically, of their use in a management and policy capacity. Because of the limits that still exist on current data from government sources, the main focus of this article will be upon management consulting but, where possible, it will also discuss the policy area. The article focuses on the demand for consulting services in these areas, comparing the activity of federal departments and agencies. In particular it maps the progression of management consulting contracts across the federal administration and identifies the largest administrative users of these categories of consulting services. The research in this article is limited to the federal government as the financial records for the provinces and territories in this area lag far behind those of the federal government and do not offer sufficient detail in their reporting to provide solid analytical data comparable to that presented here.

There are definitional differences between policy consultants and management consultants in general and for those records kept by the federal government and the private sector. The federal Treasury Board expenditure category 0491 ("Management Consulting") used in this article includes "consulting services for financial management, transportation, economic development, environmental planning, public consultation and other consulting services not specifically mentioned in other objects." These "other objects" consist of a variety of codes related to different kinds of professional and technical services. The private sector, in contrast, uses the North American Industry Classifications System (NAICS) definition created by Statistics Canada and other NAFTA statistical agencies, which focuses on the provision of "advice and assistance to businesses and other organizations on management issues, such as strategic and organizational planning; financial planning and budgeting; marketing objectives and policies; human resource policies, practices, and planning; production scheduling; and control planning." In other words, the NAICS definition focuses on business services while the Treasury Board category includes a variety of tasks related to government policy-making activities. Consulting on policy matters, as opposed to management or organizational issues, is thus a sub-sector of the Treasury Board management consulting category and one which Perl and White, for example, defined as involving "the engagement of external analytical capacity by state actors to perform all or part of the strategic, research, assessment or evaluative tasks that comprise the functions of policy analysis" (2002: 51).

The explanations for the emergence of policy and management consulting in government and the reasons at its root are varied. Some accounts place consulting within the larger framework of increased contracting out and part-time service delivery in government and see it as part of a more general shift in the overall nature of state-societal relations-- away from the "positive" or "regulatory" state (Majone 1997) and towards the "service," "franchise" or "competition" state (Perl and White 2002; Bilodeau, Laurin, and Vining 2007; Butcher, Freyens and Wanna 2009; Radcliffe 2010). …

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