Opening Remarks by Maria Barrados, President, Public Service Commission of Canada on Annual Report 2009-2010, PSC Audit Reports, Government-Wide Audit on Collective Staffing, and Study on the Use of Temporary Help Services at the meeting of Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimate
October 7, 2010
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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’s always a pleasure to appear before your Committee.
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.
Size of the PSEA universe – Slowing Growth
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 has delegated its appointment authority.
In 2009-2010, the public service continued to grow but at a slower rate, 3.4% as compared to 4.5% in 2008-2009. There was also a slowdown in hiring and staffing activities.
Overall Assessment and Progress
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 in 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.
Use of Temporary Help Services
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 dollars on temporary services in 2008-2009, 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 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 the Treasury Board Secretariat and Public Works and Government Services Canada 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 2007-2008, to 24.7 weeks, in 2008-2009, the average time to staff indeterminate, or permanent, advertised positions has remained relatively stable - 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 audit reports. 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 upon any other entities audited by the PSC this year.
Now, I would like to turn to the subject of employment equity and the progress made with respect to the recruitment of the 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.
National Area of Selection
The PSC is also committed to making federal employment opportunities here in the National Capital Region available to all Canadians. We have seen increased rate of applications from outside the NCR as well as higher rate of appointments 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 impact 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 HR 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 PSC. 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. And 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 its 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 Members of this Committee for your interest in the federal public service and the work of the Public Service Commission.
Thank you, I am pleased to answer any questions you may have.
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