Central Agency may refer to a departmental central agency in government finance and administration or, generally, to any group whose terms of reference extend across all policy areas. The Department of Finance, for example, is responsible on behalf of all ministers for preparing the budget. The TREASURY BOARD Secretariat (TBS) develops, approves and subsequently monitors the spending plans of departments and agencies. The PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION, in conjunction with the TBS, is important in personnel management. The PRIVY COUNCIL OFFICE (PCO) provides the secretariats for CABINET and its committees, and is involved in wide-ranging liaison, co-ordinating and advisory functions stemming from its links with the Cabinet and prime minister, as well as the role of the clerk of PCO as head of the civil service. More intimately associated with the party and political responsibilities of the prime minister is a fifth central agency, the PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE.
Beginning in the late 1960s, increasing governmental activity and rapidly escalating expenditures encouraged experimentation with additional central agencies to co-ordinate sectors of the budgetary "envelope" into which the total budget was divided (program budgeting). By the mid-eighties, most such agencies were abandoned, although without reduction in the size and reach of the entrenched central agencies. Their controlling presence is intended to ensure that regular ("line") departments provide programs and services efficiently and effectively. However, central agencies face a constant dilemma of not allowing their responsibility for co-ordination/control to trespass unduly on the individual operating department's responsibility to PARLIAMENT for the care and management of its own portfolio.