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PACP Committee Report

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Government Response to the Ninth Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Passport Services B Passport Canada


Pursuant to the House of Commons Standing Order 109 as effective March 7, 2005, the Government of Canada is pleased to respond to the Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts entitled Passport Services B Passport Canada.  The Committee’s report reflects its consideration of Chapter 5 of the February 2007 Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada (Passport Services-Passport Canada), and Passport Canadas Action Plan to address the Auditor General’s recommendations in the 2005 Report of the Auditor General of Canada (Passport Office B Passport Services).

The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for its Report, and welcomes its interest in continuing efforts to strengthen the Canadian passport program. The Government of Canada assures the Committee of both its firm commitment to the continuous improvement of the Canadian passport program and its willingness to continue to report on progress.

The Office of the Auditor General audited Passport Canada in 2005 and provided recommendations in several important areas, including the need for more effective management of Passport Canada, its central role in security and identification, and the importance of service to the public.  In response to the audit, Passport Canada prepared a comprehensive Action Plan to address the Auditor General’s findings, and to act as a tool to support continued improvement and ongoing evolution of the Canadian passport program. 

In its 2007 follow-up audit status report, the Office of the Auditor General noted that Passport Canada had made satisfactory progress overall toward addressing its 2005 recommendations in a relatively short period of time.  It also noted that some weaknesses remain in the critical areas of security and verification of identity.  The Government of Canada has reviewed the recommendations contained in the Status Report and Passport Canada is updating its Action Plan in response to the Office of the Auditor General.

Passport Canada has experienced significant challenges and pressures as a result of increasing security expectations, the evolving role of the passport, and a significant increase in demand for its services.  Canadians rely on the solid reputation of the Canadian passport as a secure document to facilitate their international travel.  The Canadian passport provides holders with visa-free access to the US and to many other countries and constitutes reliable evidence of identity and status for other types of transactions with governments and the private sector. 

The integrity of the Canadian passport is also an important element of Canadian and international security strategies in the fight against crime and terrorism.  It is a valuable document that has also been targeted by criminal and terrorist organizations for the purposes of fraud, including entitlement fraud, irregular migration, organized crime, and terrorism related activities.  

It has been and remains a challenge for Passport Canada to balance security, service and costs.  While adjusting to an environment with increasing focus on the security of international travel documents, Passport Canada has experienced a historic and sustained rise in passport applications.  The implementation of the air phase of the US Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) in January 2007 with only 60 days notice to the public resulted in a surge of passport applications. Over the winter and spring of 2006/2007, Passport Canada struggled to meet its service standards and received negative media attention and criticism regarding the accessibility of passports to Canadian citizens.

Passport Canada’s commitment to laying a strong and new foundation has led to significant accomplishments since the release of the Auditor General’s report in 2005 and its 2007 Status Report. The agency has implemented a number of initiatives to expedite the passport issuing process, modernize its services and increase its capacity to respond to demand in a timely manner to better serve Canadians. Canadians have already seen the results of these efforts.  The winter busy season has just ended with no line-ups or service delays despite continuing growth in demand.

The US is preparing to implement the WHTI at land and sea ports of entry in June 2009.  It is expected to have a much greater impact that was seen in the air mode. Passport Canada has positioned itself well to manage the anticipated increase in passport applications. 

Detailed Responses to the Recommendations

Continued Reporting on Status of Actions in Response to the Auditor General
Recommendation 1
Passport Canada continue to provide detailed information in its Annual Report on progress in rectifying the weaknesses identified by the Office of the Auditor General in its initial audit in 2005 and the follow-up a udit in 2007.

Passport Canada will continue to provide detailed information in its Annual Report on progress in rectifying the weaknesses identified by the Office of the Auditor General in its initial audit in 2005 and the follow-up audit in 2007.

The Auditor General commented in its 2007 follow up audit that Passport Canada should provide more detail in its Action Plan by including target dates and reasons for any variance with previous plans.  Passport Canada followed this recommendation in its 2006-2007 Annual Report.

The Government of Canada is pleased that the Public Account Committee has acknowledged the work accomplished to report in detail the actions taken to address the Auditor General’s 2005 findings.  Passport Canada will continue with these efforts by providing detailed information in its 2007-2008 Annual Report through an updated Action Plan.

Risk Assessment
Recommendation 2
Passport Canada provide the Public Accounts Committee with evidence that it has conducted a detailed risk assessment of passport examination and security functions by 31 October 2008.

Passport Canada is committed to the security and integrity of the Canadian passport program, including the processes behind passport issuance as well as the security features of the document itself. As part of our focus on security, the Agency has invested in the development and implementation of a range of new security projects. These initiatives will result in the use of facial recognition tools as part of the approval process for applications (to be introduced this fiscal year) as well as the development of the Security and Intelligence Case Management System, also to be introduced this fiscal year.  In addition, Budget 2008 committed the Government of Canada to introducing an e-passport by 2011. All of these projects will result in a stronger passport program and product.

In line with these initiatives, Passport Canada has also been working to better identify the security risks associated with the entitlement process. In addressing these concerns Passport Canada’s initial step (completed in 2007) was to map out the detailed steps involved in the walk in and mail in environments in which passports are processed.  The next step, to be undertaken this fiscal year, is a more detailed analysis of the security risks arising at the various production stages. We expect to be able to report on this stage of our work by October 2008.  Once the security risk analysis is completed, appropriate mitigation measures will be identified and implemented. 

Strategic Planning
Recommendation 3
Passport Canada provide the Public Accounts Committee by 30 September 2008 a strategic plan, which includes sufficient advertising, of how it, including its local offices, will manage the anticipated surge in passport applications associated with the land and sea based requirements of the United States ’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.« INCLUDE THE TEXT OF THE RECOMMENDATION
Recommendation 4
Passport Canada provide the Public Accounts Committee a plan by 30 September 2008 of how it intends to improve the processing time for mail-in passport applications.

In order to be prepared for the possibility of extreme fluctuations in demand, Passport Canada has put a contingency plan in place.  The plan includes a series of risk mitigation initiatives that will be implemented when and if needed.  Passport Canada updates its volume forecasts three times per year and monitors intake daily in order to flag any potential volume issues requiring immediate action.  To date, few measures have been required in order to maintain service standards across all service channels.

Passport Canada has taken a number of steps in reaction to the first phase of WHTI, implemented in January 2007, and in anticipation of the final phase in June 2009. To expedite the passport issuing process, it has implemented a series of initiatives to modernize its services and increase its capacity to respond to demand in a timely manner and better serve Canadians. An ongoing staffing campaign has enabled it to hire more than 1,250 new employees. Through weekend blitzes and overtime, and the addition of evening shifts in certain locations, Passport Canada employees have worked to accelerate the processing of applications and thereby reduce the inventory of applications that had formed in 2006-2007.

To improve accessibility, operating hours were extended in several offices, call centre capacity was increased and 63 mobile passport clinics were held in smaller centres. Passport Canada will continue to conduct mobile passport clinics outside major metropolitan areas to better meet the needs of Canadians in these regions. Partnerships with Service Canada were vastly expanded through 66 new service sites. Passport Canada is exploring ways to enhance points of service and the types of service offered through this partnership.

Several offices were also expanded to allow for larger waiting and processing rooms. To accommodate new personnel and house increasing capacity, central mail-in operations were moved to larger facilities. 

Passport Canada is also pursuing with process streamlining, technology modernization, and policy improvements that are designed to simplify the application process for Canadians while improving the efficiency and efficacy of its operations. The most significant of these is the implementation of the simplified passport renewal process and the modification to the guarantor policy in 2007. Through public communications, the Agency is working to smooth demand by encouraging Canadians to apply for passports during the quieter summer months and to benefit from its simplified renewal process. 

With these new measures in place, Passport Canada was able to meet all of its service standards over the winter 2007/2008 busy season, despite a significant increase in volume. The Agency has built the capacity to respond to a demand of up to 5.8 million passports annually, in excess of forecasted volumes.

National Routing System
Recommendation 5
Treasury Board Secretariat report on the progress of the National Routing Initiative in its departmental performance report, beginning with the 2007-2008 report.

The original National Routing System project continues with some government departments (Canada Revenue Agency and Statistics Canada) and some provinces maintaining linkages to exchange vital statistics information. Service Canada is also working to establish electronic linkages for verification of vital events data. Treasury Board has taken the lead on work to bring together the various approaches to develop a whole of government approach on behalf of the Government of Canada. However, this project is still in its preliminary stages and resources have not yet been allocated.  Until the project is approved and funded, it is not a departmental priority that will be identified in Treasury Board Report on Plans and Priorities for 2007-08 and therefore would not appear in its Departmental Performance Report. Should this become a TBS approved funded project, TBS would be pleased to add it to its DPR via a virtual link.

Funding for the Canadian Passport Program
Recommendation 6
Passport Canada provide the Public Accounts Committee with the results of its study of the adequacy of its current funding arrangement by 30 September 2008, including examining any efficiencies that can be obtained.

Passport Canada completed a review of funding options in 2006-07.  This report is no longer relevant given the Government of Canada decision to move to a ten-year electronic passport by 2011. At the request of the Treasury Board Ministers, Passport Canada is conducting a complete review of its organization including its governance structure, service model, the legislative and funding authorities that are required to equip the agency to respond better to future challenges. The outcome of the Operational Review will be shared with the Committee after is has been reviewed and approved by ministers.