Opening Remarks by Maria Barrados, President, Public Service Commission of Canada on Annual Report 2010-2011, PSC Audit Reports, and Report on the Agreement with the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance

November 15, 2011

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Mr. Chairman and Honourable Senators,

I am here with Hélène Laurendeau, Senior Vice-President, Policy Branch, and Elizabeth Murphy-Walsh, Vice-President, Audit and Data Services Branch, to discuss the Public Service Commission’s 2010-2011 Annual Report and its Audit Reports for 2011, which were tabled in Parliament on October 25.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is an independent body responsible for safeguarding the integrity of staffing in the public service and the non‑partisanship of the public service. The PSC is free from ministerial direction in the exercise of its executive authorities for hiring and non-partisanship, but it is accountable to Parliament. We report annually to Parliament on our activities and results and we welcome the opportunity to discuss them with your Committee.

Population in PSEA Organizations

The PSC’s 2010-2011 Annual Report covers the fifth year of operation under the current Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). As of March 2011, there were 83 organizations, representing over 216,000 individuals, to which the PSC has delegated its appointment authority.

There was no growth in the core public service in 2010-2011, as compared to 3.4% in the previous year. There was a marked reduction not only in hiring but also internal staffing activities – 15.2% – compared to last year. We saw less recruitment, especially new permanent hires, with no change in departures. Fewer young employees joined the public service in 2010-2011 and, for the first time in a decade, there was a decrease in the number of employees under 35 years old. Although there is less hiring, there is still significant intake. Over 1,250 students entered the public service through post-secondary recruitment as opposed to nearly 1,650 the year before.

Staffing and Fiscal Restraint

The government has entered a period of fiscal restraint; there will be pressures on the staffing system. We see continuing interest in public service jobs, but it will be for fewer jobs.

The PSC is responsible for managing a priority program for displaced employees in the federal public service. Our legislation provides for a “priority” personto be appointed ahead of all others to vacant positions in the public service, if the person meets the essential qualifications of the position. This program is important in providing fairness to displaced employees, and we need to make sure that it works well. An evaluation identified areas for improvement and we are making a number of changes to make the program more robust and rigorous. In addition, our analysis of 19 audits over the past two years showed that in 11% of appointments, problems were identified in obtaining priority clearances.

As well, proper use and better planning of both the permanent and contingent workforces are essential in ensuring that managers are able to respond to their needs in a flexible way while respecting the values in the PSEA. We believe, however, that targeted hiring must continue to ensure succession in the public service and maintain a public service to deliver results for Canadians.

Overall Assessment and Progress

I would like to now turn to our overall assessment. Based on our oversight activities in 2010-2011, we have concluded that overall, merit is being respected in the staffing system, and our audits show that managers are doing a better job of applying the merit test. Organizational performance in the management of staffing continues to improve. We saw positive trends in hiring strategies, which better support staffing priorities as well as improved HR capacity. However, we have concerns with the quality control of appointment processes, the lack of appropriate assessment and documentation of merit, and the poor rationales for non-advertised appointment processes.

In addition, there continues to be a small proportion of cases where merit has not been met. This is usually the result of error, omission or improper conduct. As well, there are still too many cases where merit is not demonstrated in the staffing files or other organizational records.

The PSC continues to be concerned about employees’ perceptions of the fairness of the overall staffing process. About a quarter of employees persistently feel that the overall process is not at all fair, or fair only to some extent. We are also concerned that the continued low rate of external appointments for persons with disabilities will have negative consequences for their representation in the public service over the long-term.

With respect to non-partisanship, we find that a small proportion of public servants are politically active. In 2010-2011, the PSC received 94 candidacy requests from public servants. Still, we are concerned that public servants are not well-informed about their rights and responsibilities with regard to political activities. We believe that more effort is required to properly safeguard this core value.

2011 Audits, and Immigration and Refugee Board

Now, I would like to turn to our audits. This year, the PSC examined 11 organizations, and it placed additional conditions only on the delegation of staffing authorities at the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Commissioner has provided an action plan that outlines how they will respond to the audit recommendations and they will also provide semi-annual reports on how the plan has been implemented. The PSC has removed the conditions placed upon Health Canada and some of the conditions on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police following their past audits.

Following a 2009 audit, the PSC and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) reached an agreement with respect to the auditing of additional appointments, the conduct of investigations and corrective actions. A report on this agreement was also tabled in Parliament. The PSC found improvement in their staffing practices. However, the IRB has not accepted the conclusions in the majority of investigations completed by the PSC. Any decision to not respond to the results of an investigation or to not undertake appropriate corrective measures undermines the integrity of the staffing system. Instead of removing all their staffing authorities, we are now moving forward with a process whereby the PSC would carry out investigations and order corrective actions on the internal processes at the IRB.

Looking Forward

As we move forward, the PSEA values will be as important as ever. With fewer opportunities, each appointment decision takes on more significance relative to the integrity of the system as a whole. Our oversight activities provide important information about the integrity of the staffing system and assurance to Parliament that the core and guiding values are being met.

We will continue to work with members of this Committee as well as other Parliamentarians, deputy heads, bargaining agents and other stakeholders to ensure that the staffing system is responsive to the changing operational and fiscal context, and that the staffing values continue to be respected.

As you may know, my term as President has been extended until a replacement is found. The PSC is committed to supporting a smooth transition to a new Commission over the coming months and will continue to ensure that Canadians benefit from a professional public service in which merit and non-partisanship are independently protected.

Thank you. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may have.