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A federal department is looking for consultants to evaluate how much it spends to provide Employment Insurance, Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan services to Canadians.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which runs Service Canada and manages the programs that get social services to Canadians, has posted a notice of procurement on a government contracting website seeking an evaluation of the programs' "cost-effectiveness."
The department requires "the services of several consultants to undertake a cost-effectiveness assessment, including external benchmarking, of its administration of the Employment Insurance (EI), Canada Pension Plan (CPP), and Old Age Security (OAS) programs," the notice says. The report is due by March 31, 2013 and is expected to be posted publicly when it's completed.
Asked what exactly the consultants would be asked to evaluate and what the goal of the evaluation was, an unnamed spokesperson issued a statement from a generic government email address.
"Over the past few years, HRSDC has taken steps to modernize the delivery of its large statutory programs including EI, CPP and OAS. These efforts have led to service delivery improvements for Canadians."
"The benchmarking study is a part of the department's on-going commitment to improve the efficiency of program delivery. This study will gather valuable information that will be used to further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery to Canadians," the statement said.
"External benchmarking" refers to a comparison with how the private sector works.
The spokesperson didn't respond when asked whether that meant cuts, and what the possibilities were for making the programs more efficient.
The government came under fire recently for its plan to gradually start cutting back OAS to Canadians starting in 2023. By 2029, the age of eligibility to collect OAS will be 67 instead of 65.
With so limited information, it's hard to know what exactly the consultants will be looking for, the NDP associate critic for human resources said.
"To me, I'm very worried that means cuts. Those are buzz words that usually mean cuts," said Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, pointing to the term "cost-effectiveness."
"I'm concerned about it, that's for sure. Especially when you saw the last budget — there were cuts this year to human resources, but this year and the year after, they were even bigger."
The government also used the 2012 budget to implement changes to EI. The budget gave cabinet the power to decide the criteria for defining what constitutes suitable employment and what constitutes reasonable efforts to find a job. It also removed two clauses from the existing Employment Insurance Act that said work is not suitable if it is in the claimant's usual job but at a lower rate of earnings or if it is outside of the claimant's normal line of work.
The tender comes after widespread complaints of poor service for EI applicants who couldn't get through on the phone to Service Canada. Last December, the department of human resources said 250,000 people had been waiting more than the promised 28 days to get their first cheque. Those who were trying to reach the EI office waited up to five days for their phone calls to be returned.
Diane Finley, the minister in charge of the file, said at the time that there had been an unexpected spike in claims the month before.with files from CBC News