Parliamentary Budget Offices E-Learning Course

In December 2012, 77 participants took part in an e-learning module on Parliamentary Budgetary Offices (PBO). The purpose of this training module was to share knowledge on the work of independent, objective, nonpartisan PBOs and their contribution to the budget process. Some of the key factors considered in the module included the tasks a PBO should undertake, the resources it needs to carry out those tasks and its institutional structure, accountability and discretion.

The module contained the following units:

1. Parliament and the Budget:  The first unit provided the context as to why legislatures and their committees are seeking to obtain independent expertise and support for
oversight in general and for the budget process and spending of public monies in particular.

2. Fiscal Councils and Parliamentary Budget Offices: The second unit introduced fiscal councils and PBOs and explains the key differences between them. It explored the history behind the creation of nonpartisan, independent, objective analytic units and suggests reasons for their current popularity.

3. Potential Value of a PBO: There are a number of benefits provided by legislative, independent, nonpartisan, objective analytical budget units. This unit presented some of the benefits to the legislature, individual parliamentarians and society as a whole. The main value of a PBO is that it will ensure sufficient independent analysis and timely advice on budget and expenditure issues reaches parliament.

4. Functions and Mandate of a PBO: Unit 4 outlined the possible functions of an independent and objective analytic budget office. Four key functions were presented: making independent budget forecasts; establishing baseline estimates; analysing executive budget proposals and providing medium-term analysis. The unit also described other functions that may be performed by independent budget units depending on overall resources and the needs and wishes of parliamentarians in each jurisdiction. 

5. Examples of Parliamentary Budget Offices: This unit provided examples of specialized legislative budget offices and fiscal councils and highlighted the diversity of existing budgetary units in terms of size and remit.

6. Considerations in Establishing Effective Legislative Budget Units: Establishing and maintaining PBOs is not a simple process and there are a number of important issues for a parliament to consider. These include the independence and accountability of the unit, location, staffing, access to information and releasing information.  This unit explored some of the key successful characteristics of an independent budgetary unit.

The module drew particularly on the work and experience of Barry Anderson, Head of Budgeting and Public Expenditure Division of the OECD and former Deputy Director and the Acting Director of the United States Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It also referred to the experiences of budgetary units in other countries. The Inquiries into the parliamentary budgetary offices in Australia and Canada were also very useful sources of information. The module will be updated with new material from other PBOs and the discussions from the Seminar on Open Government, Information and Budget Transparency in Montreal (17-19 June 2013) before it is run again in November 2013.  I will add some further blogs highlighting some of the common themes from the 2012 e-discussions in the weeks ahead ....