Ladies and gentlemen, could I call this meeting to order, please?
It's meeting number 29 of the committee on government operations and estimates. On the orders of the day, we have Madam Barrados, from the Public Service Commission, and other committee business.
If I may for a moment ask the indulgence of the committee, I'll ask whether they would entertain the notion of changing the order of business from Madam Barrados first to committee business first to dispose of the motions that are before us, and then call Maria Barrados for the balance of the time.
May I see an interest on the part of the committee to do that? The primary reason is that I'm unfortunately going to have to leave the chair in about one hour. I'd prefer to be in the chair, if I may, during the motions, and then call on Mr. Warkentin to be in the chair for the balance of the time for the witnesses.
May I see, from the committee, whether there is any appetite to flip? Is that fine? Okay.
So if I may move to that, I believe there are three motions before us: two by Mr. Warkentin and the first one by Madam Coady. Again, I should ask whether members wish to go in camera at this point or if they're fine being in public. In public is fine...? Okay.
All the motions are in order, in my judgment. The order of precedence would be Madam Coady and then Mr. Warkentin with the next two.
Madam Coady, please speak to your motion.
Thank you and good morning.
Mr. Chair, I would like to begin by congratulating you on your election as the chair of the committee; it is always a pleasure to appear before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. I am here with Donald Lemaire, Senior Vice-President, Policy Branch, and Elizabeth Murphy-Walsh, Vice-President, Audit and Data Services Branch, to discuss the 2009-2010 Annual Report of the Public Service Commission of Canada, as well as nine audit reports and a study on the use of temporary help services within the public service. They were all tabled in Parliament on Tuesday and were referred to this committee.
For the benefit of the new members, the Public Service Commission (PSC) is an independent agency accountable to Parliament for safeguarding the integrity of staffing in the public service and the political impartiality of public servants. The PSC is independent of ministerial direction, and we hold executive authority for hiring. We report annually to Parliament on our activities and results.
The PSC's 2009-2010 annual report covers the fourth year of operation under the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). As of March 2010, there were 84 organizations, representing over 216,000 individuals, to which the PSC had delegated its appointment authority.
In 2009-2010, the public service continued to grow but at a slower rate, 3.4%, as compared with 4.5% in 2008-2009. There was also a slowdown in hiring and staffing activities.
Based on our oversight activities in 2009-2010, significant progress has been made in implementing the PSEA over the past four years. The essential elements of the PSEA are in place, and there continues to be advances in achieving its objectives. The core values of merit and non-partisanship, and the guiding values of fairness, access, transparency and representativeness are generally being respected across the public service.
Still, more work needs to be done to ensure that managers fully understand how to apply the core and guiding values to their decisions. We have found that the behaviour of managers suggests that the values, and their interconnections, are not yet sufficiently understood and that staffing decisions are not yet sufficiently based on values.
We also note that there are persistent inconsistencies across organizations in the implementation of the values-based approach, for instance, in the use of advertised versus non-advertised appointment processes, and in the lack of documentation of decisions. A more concerted effort is needed from everyone in the public service to ensure a values-based approach to staffing.
This brings me to the issue of temporary help services and short-term hiring in the public service. They represent useful tools to address short-term needs such as temporary workload increases. PSEA organizations spent approximately $300 million on temporary services in 2008-09, a threefold increase over the past decade, most of which occurred in the national capital region. This upward trend is of concern, as it poses risks to the integrity of the staffing system.
At the request of this committee in April of 2009, the PSC undertook a study on the use of temporary help in the public service. Our study found improper uses of temporary help contracting to address long-term staffing needs. Managers are given little guidance on how to consider the PSEA when using temporary help. The result of the pattern of usage observed was a circumvention of the PSEA. We also found that about one in five temporary workers was employed in the public service following their contract, with the majority appointed to permanent positions.
The PSC will consult with Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Works and Government Services to address issues raised in the study and to provide guidance to deputy heads on the appropriate use of this mechanism in relation to the PSEA.
Another area of concern is time to staff. While there has been a notable reduction in time to staff collective advertised processes--from 27.4 weeks in 2007-08 to 24.7 weeks in 2008-09--the average time to staff indeterminate, or permanent, advertised positions has remained relatively stable at around 23 weeks.
Time to staff a position can be significantly reduced within the existing PSEA framework and policies without compromising our staffing values. Our research has shown that further efficiencies can be achieved through strong HR planning and project management. We are encouraging organizations to be more aggressive in addressing time to staff, including establishing benchmarks.
I would now like to turn to our audits. The PSC identified three recurring themes in these audits: first, appointment decisions not always being fully documented; second, poor rationales being used for non-advertised appointment processes; and third, the ongoing need to improve quality control on appointment processes.
As a result of our audit, we have imposed additional conditions on the delegation of staffing authorities at the National Parole Board. The National Parole Board has provided us with an action plan that outlines how the organization will respond to the audit recommendations. The chairperson of the board will also be required to provide us with semi-annual reports on progress made against the action plan.
As a result of its follow-up audit, the PSC has removed conditions it had placed upon the Canadian Space Agency following its 2006 audit. No additional conditions have been placed on any other entities audited by the PSC this year.
Now I'd like to turn to the subject of employment equity and the progress made with respect to the recruitment of four designated groups. Three of these groups--women, visible minorities, and aboriginal peoples--are now being appointed to the public service at a proportion exceeding their workforce availability. We continue to see increased hiring of visible minorities. They account for 21.2% of external appointments, up from 18.8% in the previous year. Persons with disabilities remain the one group where the share of appointments is below their workforce availability.
The PSC is also committed to making federal employment opportunities here in the national capital region available to all Canadians. We have seen an increased rate of application from outside the NCR, as well as a higher rate of appointment of those applicants for both officer and non-officer jobs in the NCR. This means that the national area of selection policy is having a positive effect and helping to improve access to public service jobs for Canadians.
In looking to the future, we know this is a critical time for Canada's public service and for the PSEA. There are early signs of the rate of growth of the public service slowing further in the months ahead, as well as a decline in the level of staffing activity. Targeted human resources plans, including succession planning and talent management, will be increasingly valuable tools for managers as they seek to hire the right people within available budgets.
We have seen progress in key areas of concern, and the system has consistently demonstrated an ability to learn, respond and adapt to change.
The PSC will continue to support departments and agencies to become more efficient by providing innovative services, tools and technologies.
We are also moving forward with a preliminary assessment of the PSEA. We will be providing parliamentarians with a spring report that will assess the effectiveness of the legislation and recommend areas for change. This assessment will contribute to the formal legislative review of the PSEA led by the President of the Treasury Board.
I understand this committee has a very broad mandate, including oversight of the Public Service Commission. Your committee was asked to recommend to Parliament my appointment as president. You review the results of our work in our annual report, audits and special reports, as we are doing today. You also recommend for approval our estimates, reports on plans and priorities, and departmental performance reports.
These documents tell the story of how we are managing our finances and other challenges: dealing with sunsetting money, operating internal cost-recovery services, absorbing strategic review reductions, and dealing with the operating budget freeze. I look forward to discussing them with the committee.
My mandate ends in May 2011, as do the mandates of the PSC's two part-time commissioners. I would like to thank the members of this committee for your interest in the federal public service and the work of the Public Service Commission.
Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
We certainly appreciate you being here this morning, for the hard work that you do, and for having patience with us while we attended to committee business. So thank you very much, and yes, I agree with the chair, it was a comprehensive package of information that we had to review, and it was most enlightening.
I'd like to ask the first question concerning pretty much what you said toward the end of your opening remarks, and that was the challenges with the budget issues. I'm going to lump them all into one particular area. You are dealing with sunsetting money. You're dealing with operating internal cost recovering services. You said that in your opening statement.
I do know that you had to transfer 6.5% of your budget to another department because of a shortfall, and I also know that you're dealing with a budget freeze. It's not only the 6.5% that you were required to give under review and under a shortfall, but also that you have a budget freeze, and actually, as part of the strategic review, perhaps even a 5% decrease.
Can you talk to the challenges and risks that poses for your department, and to why you needed to give that 6.5% to another department? Thank you.
I see, yes. It wasn't 6.5%, but we were required to transfer $133,000 and $225,000, for a total of $358,000, for savings. One amount--$133,000--went to the census, and for procurement savings there was $225,000. There was a requirement to do that.
With respect to the general question that is being asked, there is no doubt that the Public Service Commission is facing significant financial pressures. When I talk about sunsetting money, this is the money we had for our electronic system, so this is the system for all Canadians to be able to apply to jobs, and the electronic screening behind that. We have since managed to fund that within the government, so government departments are paying for the utilization of that system.
There are significant pressures, because we are in cost recovery, for parts of our services. As staffing services go down, we have issues in terms of being sure that we can cover those costs. It means that as an organization, we have to manage our books and start the year with significant reserves. So it really requires quite a bit of tight financial planning on our part.
We had strategic review cuts. We've done the second year. We have one more year of cuts, in the order of $4.3 million that we had to take out of the budget, out of the base. In addition to that, we have an operating budget freeze, which we estimate will take about $1.3 million out of the base every year—this past year and for the next two years. So we have these ongoing reductions.
I'm not unique; the same thing is happening in other government departments. To this point, I think we can manage them, so we are doing a number of things. We are tightly managing our new staffing, so as people leave we are tightly managing the replacement of the new staff. My executive committee is actually reviewing all new staffing requests. We have regular reports on where we are in the budgets, and we have a lot of discussions on what the priorities are.
As well, we are looking to improve the efficiencies of our operations, and fortunately we have been able to get the money for the IT infrastructure we need. But the consequence of that will be that as we replace some staff and not others, we are going to have some people in the wrong spots. So we are making sure we will have money to do training to help reallocate people.
As I said in my opening statement, on the HR side this means more than ever that public service managers will have to manage, and manage very well and very tightly. It is true on the financial side. As I think many members of this committee know, I spent many years in the Office of the Auditor General, so I'm preoccupied with both the financial and the HR side of this. I think as an organization, we are managing.
Thank you for the question.
I was actually very surprised when I saw this in the report from the Privacy Commissioner, because I have a letter from last May telling me this file was closed.
Perhaps I could just take a minute and explain the two principal activities that we are concerned with at the Public Service Commission. We have a broad mandate to protect the political impartiality of the public service. There are two parts of this mandate. One is if public servants want to run for political office, they must come to the commission for permission to run and we determine whether their running would in any way compromise the non-partisan nature of the public service.
It has a lot to do with the kind of job they do, the kind of job they go back to if they lose, and the conditions that are imposed when they are campaigning. There are some technicalities where the commission has to be very involved because of the structure of the law.
The second part of the act says that public servants should not be active in such a way that it compromises the non-partisan nature of the public service, so it's speeches, signs, participation in campaigns, but not necessarily being a candidate.
For us to discharge this, we have done two things. One, for those people who are candidates, we do monitor that very closely. We do follow up particularly when they're still working in campaigning. We follow a lot. We scrutinize closely to make sure they adhere to the conditions. We also do some checking when there are a number of campaigns to see if any of the candidates are public servants and they didn't come to us.
With respect to the other general activity, it's just general media monitoring. The first thing that the Privacy Commissioner did was put those two activities together. It was fairly intensive for a very select number of people who were candidates but not for the others. She goes on to say that we have databases that put together opinions, political affiliations, personal causes, hobbies, religious affiliations, and group memberships of past and present public servants. We have never done that, we will not do that, and we are not going to do that.
Good morning, Ms. Barrados, and thank you for being here. I also want to say hello to your team.
I would like to start by thanking you for responding to a request from the members of this committee. Further to a motion by the Bloc Québécois, parliamentarians began asking questions about the astronomical costs that the government was supposed to assume given that it was going through private agencies to hire staff.
We remembered finding out that, in 2009, the federal government had paid out more than a billion dollars to these employment agencies. We also learned, through you, in your role as president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, that the government had a site or mechanisms in place to hire staff. You then submitted a report to us.
You are very brave, in my opinion, because since I have known you, since you have been on the job, you have worked very hard on the staffing process within the public service. I know the process is your baby and matters to you a great deal. If I understand correctly, unfortunately one of your findings was that problems persist with the staffing process, which you have worked so hard on and believe in just as strongly.
I would like you to tell us why managers are having so much trouble finding staff, why they are not using the staffing process that you put in place correctly or as frequently as necessary.
First, however, I want to come back to your report and the matter of temporary help services. On page 6 of the French version, it says that organizations used temporary help contracting services improperly. The study also revealed two practices that suggest the long-term use of temporary help services.
Does that mean, Ms. Barrados, that the public service has a parallel staffing system to the one that is currently in place? Does that mean that, even though a staffing system exists under the Public Service Employment Act, temporary help services—agencies that recruit casual employees—are being used to such an extent that it has created a second staffing system within the public service? Did I make myself clear? Do you understand what I mean?
Yes. Thank you for your comments and questions.
Exactly, we now have a staffing system, especially here, in the national capital region. It is known, we have information on the people, their background and so forth. But we have another system for contract employees. And that system, which enables people to work in the public service on contract, does not provide us with the same information.
During the study, we had a very hard time obtaining information on workers' names, which is the only way we can compare the work they did in the past with the work they are doing right now.
We concluded that we have another system, one that is complicated and difficult to monitor, for reasons that are not always clear. Actually, I think this is a situation where managers in the public service did not oversee the system; it is a bit of an ad hoc system.
Now, it is extremely important that we oversee all aspects of human resources, especially in light of the challenges we face as a government.
Madame Barrados, it seems to me that our worst fears are realized, in a sense, in that we asked you a year ago to investigate further what seemed to be an explosion in the use of temporary help services. You've confirmed and measured those concerns for us here.
One thing that strikes me is that it seems—I think it's reasonable, to answer Chris's question—that one of the reasons they are using these services is that it's simply a cost factor. It's surely cheaper, in most cases, to take on a temporary worker, for whom you don't pay any benefits and there are no pension obligations or legacy costs—all of those things that employers hate these days and that they can bypass.
What concerns me is that they can also bypass all the checks and balances that were put in place when the Public Service Commission was created. The very reason that the commission was created was to be able to ensure the integrity of the hiring process, the impartiality, and do away with nepotism. All of those checks and balances are out the window, if a disproportionate amount of the hiring is done in this way.
You raise another good point. It also rather undermines the notion of a national area of selection. We only just achieved this, that all jobs will be posted nationwide, but if they're bypassing all of that as well, it seems to be a case of one step forward and two steps backward.
You use some very strong language here. You say that your study found “improper uses of temporary help contracting”. Could you expand on that? In whose context is it improper, or is it an actual violation of the Public Service Employment Act?
I'm not sure that I have a magic bullet here, but we certainly can look at the experience of what we have done for visible minorities. On the visible minorities side, I have been coming before Parliament for the whole period of my term raising concerns, and the result of that is that there has been a real mobilization in the public service. We've seen it in the past for women; we've seen it in the past for francophones.
So this, first and foremost, has to get more attention. As part of getting more attention, the message has to go out to the disabled that it is a welcoming workplace. We want to them to apply more. They're not applying in the numbers that they should. That doesn't mean that everybody who applies gets a job, but you want numbers so that you can get people and match their skills.
So that's the first thing that has to happen. We have to have more saying that this is a welcoming place to come.
The second thing we have to do, and this is something that the commission is charged with, is provide more support to departments in doing assessments and making accommodations for the disabled, because many of the disabilities are not seen. Sometimes people don't want to declare them. But if you have some kind of reading problem, for example, you're going to have trouble doing the reading language tests. We have to provide more support in accommodating people in their assessments and, again, let that be known.
On my part, I commit to continue to monitor those numbers, talking it up. And we've had success in the visible minority area, so—maybe I'm overly optimistic—I think we can move this one as well.
I am a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and I work with the reports of the Auditor General, Ms. Fraser. In her report, she indicated that the use of temporary help services was a way to bypass staffing rules in the public service; so she is of the same mind. But I am convinced that there are other ways to bypass the staffing process.
You are aware that since the Federal Accountability Act came into force, various programs in various departments have been the subject of internal reviews. That was the case with the exchanges Canada program, among others. I would just like to draw attention to the findings and conclusions. It was found that managers' roles were not well defined and that skill descriptions were completely lacking, as was any consistency in terms of the required experience and the eligibility criteria. Also mentioned were failures to meet language requirements, real risks of conflict-of-interest situations, ties between incumbents and grant recipients, ties with those the department relied on to deliver contracts, failure to respect assignment policies, and so on.
I agree with my colleagues, Ms. Bourgeois and some others who have asked questions. There seems to be a ploy by the government to favour the use of these agencies and other methods to bypass the staffing system. I would like to hear your thoughts on that.
Furthermore, what concerns us, at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, is that deputy ministers and departments are required by law to submit certain reports to us. And it was reported in the papers that Public Works and Government Services Canada did not report on deadlines, figures or analyses related to the use of temporary help contracts. There seems to be some poor management within that department or a deliberate intention not to disclose information on the use of temporary help services.
How much money is spent on management advisory services, on financial management services, on information technology services? All of those questions are still unanswered.
Do you know whether these agencies have ongoing relationships with the government, with Public Works and Government Services Canada, or other departments and agencies? Do they have their own lobbyists? What reasons do people give you for using these temporary help agencies?
I know that I have asked a number of questions. If you do not have time to answer them all, could you please provide a written response to the committee?
Thank you. I can take a few minutes to answer some of them, and we can provide a written response to the others later.
I do not think there is really a strategy aimed at getting around the act. To my mind, it has more to do with a lack of management. I want to see better management because, in my view, public servants, managers, are not trying to get around the act. Rather it is the result of a lack of management and a lack of attention.
I have another view. My relationship with the deputy ministers is different because I am the one, the president of the Public Service Commission, who delegates responsibilities to the deputy ministers, who must then report back to me. The relationship of accountability is between myself and the deputy minister, which is different from the relationship between the deputy minister and the minister and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
I am not surprised that you had trouble obtaining answers to detailed questions, because we had an extremely hard time coming up with these figures. We do not really have a people management system, but rather a contract management system. There is a lot of information on the contracts, but not on the individuals working under those contracts.
We can try to answer your questions using the information we have, but they will be estimates. We will have to estimate all of these figures based on samples and the work of auditors.
I'm new to this committee. I think this is my third committee meeting here, and this is my first opportunity to hear testimony and a presentation from the Public Service Commission. So I'm probably going to come across as a little bit rough around the edges, but I hope you'll bear with me.
As I've been reading through the analysts' preparation from the library and taking a look at some of the other notes I have, including your reports, I've come to a couple of conclusions in my head, and I hope you can tell me if those conclusions are accurate or not.
You say in your report that the Public Service Commission says that women, visible minorities, and aboriginal people are now being hired to the public service in proportions exceeding their respective workforce availability. So I'm reading in there that there are actually more positions available in the public service through affirmative action initiatives than there are people who are actually qualified and applying for those.
I'm also reading that there is no verification of education credentials. My mind tells me right away that if there were verification of education credentials, the pool that is already being drawn from excessively for hiring purposes might, depending on the verification of credentials, actually get smaller.
You've also stated that the current practice of using temporary workers is growing at a rate that some may find alarming. It would seem to me that if employers--the various departments in the administration--are limited in their ability to hire from a talent pool because of our affirmative action policy, they have no choice but to contract out positions. Because if they were to hire--to be blunt about it--a white boy with a master's degree in public administration, that would throw off their numbers when it comes to affirmative action in their departments. So their only option might be that they have to hire somebody on a contracted basis in order to make sure the numbers aren't skewed.
Am I misinterpreting the information of your findings?
I followed that case fairly closely.
Back to my comments, we don't have an affirmative action plan, but we do have a statute that is called the Employment Equity Act. That charges the government to have employment of the four equity groups—women, visible minorities, aboriginal people, and the disabled—at their workforce availability. So the objective is for managers to manage their workforce to get it to workforce availability. We have provisions in our act that say managers can restrict a particular process to a member of those groups if they have done their planning and they determine that for their department, their organization, for the kind of work they do, they are not sufficiently representative.
I have made statements a number of times that I feel, given the representativity of women, it really isn't appropriate to be using those special mechanisms to get women into the public service. But for the other three groups, we do have issues of representativity. And it's representative of the Canadian population: it's extremely important that the public service reflect the people it serves.
So what we have, then, is a department in this particular case that said, “I am short, and look at our whole workforce: we are short of visible minorities and aboriginal people”. Now, there are two ways that this can go. The department can say right up front, “We are going to try, if we can...”. It has to be meritorious. They have to meet the merit tests. You cannot come in, regardless of who you are, if you don't make the merit test. You--
It is. The process we go through is that we have a statement of merit: merit must be met. Now, the issue is, what if everybody meets merit? Then who do you choose? I feel it's important to tell Canadians up front what their chances are of getting a job.
If you are looking.... This particular case was an AS-1. AS-1s are paid over $50,000 and they don't require post-secondary education. This is administrative support. We have no problem getting people to do this. I think it's fairer to say up front that we are trying to get visible minorities and aboriginal people.
They must meet that merit test. If I have a pool of people, why should I make people apply and then have them, at the end, not be chosen? Because we can go two ways. We can say you meet this merit test, and it's in two parts: what you must meet or what would be nice to have, what we'd like to have. So you can put “you must meet”, and it could be a member of the group, or you could put it in “nice to have”. If you put it in “nice to have”, you're going to have a whole bunch of people applying, and they're not going to get the job anyway because you'll go to the “nice to have”. So I think it's important that we tell people, all Canadians, up front.
Now, having said that, there are still a lot of jobs and a lot of hiring, but we get many more applications. We get hundreds and hundreds of applications for jobs.
We thank you again for coming to our committee. We appreciate your testimony every time you come before us. There are always things for us to learn and areas that we know will occupy our time and our discussions at forthcoming committees. Thank you so much. We now want to invite you, or free you up, to leave. We do appreciate your attendance.
Committee members, we do have just a little bit of a tentative schedule. Before the chair left, he and I talked over the possibilities for the week we come back.
I think it's important for you to know that on the nineteenth we will not discuss , because Mr. Asselin cannot be here until the twenty-first. On the twenty-first, we will plan for it to be the first day of hearings on . The first hour will be given to the private member who is proposing the bill, as well as any of his proponents for the bill, if he wants to bring additional business people or whomever for the discussions.
For the second hour, what we are suggesting is that if every party wants to propose two different witnesses as possibilities for that second hour, we will then begin this discussion. Then, at the end of that meeting, we can determine as committee members if we want to extend the hearings or if we've heard enough. That seems to me to maybe be a way in which we can begin the process.
In terms of the meeting of the nineteenth, right now we have two different options that we've conceived. One is having Correctional Services here and hearing from them. We did hear from the PBO on theirs, but they are the last witness we need for the one study. The other is to get a high-level briefing on G-8 and G-20. It seems like committee members are excited in regard to getting onto that. There is a possibility that if Correctional Services are not available we could maybe get a high-level briefing on G-8 and G-20 from PCO or some other organization, if there's a willingness.
Again, by tomorrow we do need suggestions from the parties with regard to witnesses for . We'll ask the clerk to inform Mr. Asselin that we expect to do that on the twenty-first, to just confirm it with him, and then, I guess, work with his colleagues in the Bloc to bring witnesses who are in support of his bill, for that first hour.
An hon. member:C'est beau.
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Chris Warkentin): Very good. Thank you.
The meeting is adjourned.