IRCC’s reliance on McKinsey explains a ‘disconnect’ between money spent and value added, immigration lawyers say

More on McKinsey and IRCC. Hearing some concerns from within IRCC as well:

The decision by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada to hire McKinsey and Company to mobilize its digital transformation explains what immigration lawyers are calling a ‘disconnect’ between the resources being put into IRCC and the results it’s produced.

Barbara Jo (BJ) Caruso, an immigration lawyer speaking on behalf of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA), said when she heard about contracts IRCC had with McKinsey, “a light bulb went on.

“We were then able to sort of connect the dots and say, ‘Okay, now maybe this makes sense why everything’s been sort of haphazard, and pieced together,’ ” she said. 

At the beginning of January, a Radio-Canada report revealedthat the Canada branch of global consulting firm McKinsey and Company had seen a marked increase in the number of contracts it had been awarded by the federal government since 2015. In fact, the government later confirmed it had awarded McKinsey a total of 23 contracts at a cost of $101.4-million since 2015. By comparison, Stephen Harper’s government had spent $2.2-million on the firm throughout its nine year tenure. 

There’s been a disconnect, Caruso said, between the amount of money going into the department and the results it’s been able to produce, adding there’s been a lot of changes made, but “essentially no consultation from our vantage point.” 

“We’ve been perplexed by the amount of money that has been designated to the department and yet, we’re not really reaping the benefits of those financial contributions. We’ve got bigger backlogs than we’ve ever had, and probably the lowest client service standards, ever. And a diminishing trust from the public in the whole immigration system,” she said. 

The House Government Operations and Estimates Committee (OGGO), headed by Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, agreed over the break to undertake a study of the government’s contracts with McKinsey, particularly given this government’s relationship with Dominic Barton, who was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2019 to 2021, head of the Trudeau government’s advisory panel on economic growth, and prior to both those appointments, global managing director at McKinsey and Company between 2009 and 2018. It’s expected to call a total of seven ministers to testify before the committee, as well as top McKinsey executives, and Barton. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said he welcomes the committee’s probe to determine whether there was “value for money” in the work McKinsey did. 

McKinsey spokesperson Alley Adams said the firm “welcomes the [committee] review of the services we deliver to the federal government.” 

“We look forward to working with the committee to resolve its questions and clarify relevant issues. We are proud of the contributions our firm has had across the public sector and are focused on working with the committee to discuss our impact in detail,” Adams said in an emailed statement. 

McKinsey and Company was a key player in the department’s “transformation agenda” since 2018, when it was awarded a $2.9-million contract to assess the department’s operations and “recommend a way forward for its transformation agenda,” according to IRCC.

Based on McKinsey’s assessment, “and IRCC’s own analysis of its operating context,” IRCC launched its transformation program in 2019, with the overarching goals of improving its operations. 

In 2019, McKinsey and Company was hired for a second contract to set “the service transformation agenda in motion.” According to IRCC, the contract focused on “reviewing, developing, and implementing digital tools, processes, and services.” It was initially valued at $16.37-million, but was later amended to add $8.47-million, bringing the total to $24.8-million. 

“Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IRCC was faced with an immediate need to further accelerate the development and implementation of digital products and services. That is why the contract was amended in 2021 to help IRCC respond to these pandemic-driven pressures, manage increased volumes, and sustain core client services,” the department added. 

For its part, McKinsey has stressed that it was only involved in non-partisan, government operations, and did not influence policy.

“We work on independent research, economic and sector-based insights, in addition to core management topics such as the reduction of document processing backlogs, digitization of processes, technology strategy, operational improvements, and change management. This work does not include policy development and/or political advice. We support the service delivery objectives pursued by
the professional public servants who lead the departments and agencies we serve,” McKinsey said in a statement issued to media. 

However, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Maureen Silcoff—a former decision-maker at IRCC herself—said she doesn’t think the distinction between the two is so obvious. 

“I’m not sure that there’s really a bright line that can be drawn between the immigration policies and the immigration systems,” said Silcoff, who also sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “In the immigration context, [systems] necessarily impact the way laws and policies are implemented, or operationalized.” 

“Efficiency is crucial, but whatever measures are put in place, and have been put in place, have to be alert to the sensitivities of the population affected, which we know involves, very often, racialized people and vulnerable people,” she added.

The move towards digitizing and automating processes at IRCC has already proven to be a sticky process. 

The department has already been the subject of systemic racism allegations, and as the House Citizenship and Immigration Committee heard last March, artificial intelligence, and immigration expert witnesses expressed concern that systemic racism and bias would be embedded in any automated processes the department employs. 

“There’s advantages to algorithms, to artificial intelligence, to web-based portals, but they do come with a cost, and if attention is not paid to the frailties, there could be serious human rights implications,” Silcoff said. 

“A digitized refugee portal, for example. Is that accessible to vulnerable people, people arriving in Canada who have been subjected to torture or remain traumatized, who are new to the country and the systems?” 

An element that further exacerbates this challenge is who can access the portals on behalf of the applicant. 

One complaint Caruso and CILA have with IRCC currently is that lawyers cannot access certain online portals on behalf of their clients. 

According to IRCC, as part of its work on the department’s “digital transformation,” McKinsey helped design, develop, and launch an online citizenship application, which “enabled clients to apply digitally and IRCC to continue business throughout the pandemic.” 

However, Caruso said lawyers have not been able to access this portal on behalf of their clients, which she said is an impediment not only to their work, but to the efficiency of the department as well. 

“In our dialogue with the department, they absolutely recognize the role that counsel plays, that we can add value to the process, eliminate applications that have missing documents, because typically with good counsel, it’s a more complete application. There’s less back and forth and it means they can get to a decision sooner,” she said. 

It struck her and CILA as strange, then, when the department decided to roll out a portal that didn’t allow lawyers to access it. 

“For us, there has been this disconnect with the rollout of the technology and our role in the process. And now it sort of makes sense that it wasn’t the department, but an external player that maybe doesn’t appreciate the role that legal counsel can have in simplifying and ensuring efficiency,” she said. 

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.), her party’s immigration critic, said she’s eager to hear more about exactly what work McKinsey was contracted to do for IRCC, but added that overall, departmental work should be done in-house. 

Kwan said the fact that IRCC, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, spent the most money on McKinsey contracts of any department tells her “there’s very little transparency within IRCC.” 

“It’s just so concerning that there’s this discovery of these contracts and the government is anything but transparent about it,” she said, after describing a lack of transparency at IRCC as a “black hole.” 

“It just really speaks to the black hole that exists within IRCC. And it is deeply concerning,” she said.

Source: IRCC’s reliance on McKinsey explains a ‘disconnect’ between money spent and value added, immigration lawyers say

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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