Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report

Twenty-Second_Annual_Report_-_Report_-_Clerk_of_the_Privy_CouncilClerk Janice Charette on her three priorities for the public service in her first report to the Prime Minister on the public service:

In her report, Charette said she is “unequivocally and personally” committed to the Blueprint 2020 vision, unveiled by her predecessor, Wayne Wouters, as the road map for the public service in the digital age.

The public service is in the throes of a major transition and Blueprint has a strong appeal to young, tech-savvy public servants, as it is built around new technology and cutting red tape. It’s aimed at making the public service more networked, innovative, efficient, productive, better managed and tech-enabled.

A big complaint about it, however, is that it dodges some of the politically sensitive issues dogging Canada’s largest employer. These include: the lack of trust between bureaucrats and their political bosses; the public service’s diminished policymaking role and relevance; and what many call a “toxic” workplace that has one of the highest incidences of mental health claims in the country.

Charette’s three priorities could go a long way to address those perceived gaps.

The public service has faced an exodus of retiring baby boomers whom Charette said have to be replaced with recruits who bring new skills and fresh ideas to “manage in the modern world” dominated by technology and big data.

Charette said she isn’t setting hiring targets at this point, but departments must keep their human resource plans updated so they know which skills are needed for the future. With downsizing, departments have been preoccupied with shedding jobs.

The number of people leaving or retiring from the public service had been relatively stable over the years, until the 2012 budget cuts kicked in. Nearly 13,000 public servants retired or left in 2013-14, followed by another 12,283 the following year.

Charette said she isn’t looking to “grow” the public service, but new hiring hasn’t come close to replacing the record number of departures. About 4,300 permanent employees were hired last year and about 2,870 the year before. Rather than recruiting, departments are filling gaps with casual, term and student employees.

The recruitment and retention patterns are reflected in the experience levels of public servants. Today, 13 per cent of public servants have less than four years of experience compared to more than 17 per cent the previous year. The proportion with between five and 14 years’ experience, however, increased from 45 per cent to nearly 49 per cent.

The prime minister’s advisory committee on the public service sounded the alarm in a report last month, warning that departments averse to hiring could cause a “demographic hole” similar to the missing generation that dogged the public service for years when it stopped hiring in the 1990s. The report called for “top-down direction” from the clerk and deputy ministers.

“I think it is important for me to send a signal about where I see the priorities,” Charette told the Citizen. “Departments are making their own decisions right now about their HR priorities and I think it is important for me to signal that when I look at the public service as a whole, that this is one area where I think we have a public service-wide need.”

Here’s a quick look at what Charette said.


Specialists in data analysis will be a key recruitment target.

The public service should also examine how it recruits. It typically relies on a major post-secondary campaign on campuses, as well as online recruitment  The public service also needs an infusion of mid-career and senior talent from the private sector.

Policy development:

The public service is no longer the only or even the primary source of policy advice for ministers. Politicians expect public servants to consult and collaborate with stakeholders and it’s up to public servants to quickly “synthesize” the various interests to come with advice in the public interest.

Public servants also have to strengthen the links between policy and service delivery.

“Who is responsible for integrating that information, synthesizing it and trying to weed through what is in the public interest as opposed to the interests of the person who may be advocating a position is the job of the public service. (That’s) evidence-based public policy,” she said.

Mental health:

Charette has “no tolerance” for the situation in which one in five public servants complained about harassment in the last public service survey.

She also worries about the rising incidence of mental health claims that approach half of all long-term disability claims. Public servants’ reliance on medications to combat mental illness is also on the rise.

Some good use of infographics to communicate range of activities and related data in contrast to the previous text-driven reports as well as tables on employment equity (still using the dated 2006 labour market availability, however, which paints an overly rosy view).

Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report | Ottawa Citizen.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year |

Lots of positive comment on new PCO Clerk Charette and observations on some of the challenges she faces from previous Clerks, Donald Savoie and others:

“There’s no question the federal public service is crying out for some sense of direction,” Mr. Savoie said. “I think it’s been battered about, not just the past 10 years, but it’s been battered about for the last 20-30 years. In some ways it’s lost its moorings. It’s not anchored like it used to be, in terms of knowing it was there to provide evidence-based policy advice, it was there to deliver programs in a professional manner.”

Part of the problem has been the trend across English-speaking democracies to view “the latest management fad coming out of the private sector as a panacea to dress the public sector to look like the private sector,” Mr. Savoie said, which has undermined the public service’s values.

In his final report as chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service, former Conservative and Liberal Cabinet minister David Emerson warned that public servants had to work to remain relevant amid the digital revolution and global economy.

The report recommended pushing authority down in the organization and empowering people to make changes; streamlining business processes; investing in learning and leadership development, especially in middle management; and focusing on longer-term thinking.

Former clerk Mel Cappe, who served under prime minister Jean Chrétien, said keeping the bureaucracy relevant and attracting bright young people will be Ms. Charette’s biggest challenge.

“I think the challenge is going to be adapting to the Twitterverse and modern communications and the transformation that’s taking place in the political world, and keeping the public service relevant to be the privileged adviser to government,” he said in an interview.

New PCO Clerk Charette takes on ‘battered’ PS, reform issues in federal election year | (pay wall)

Five ways to renew the public service

Good piece by David McLaughlin on what needs to be fixed:

Here’s a five-point checklist for the new Clerk:

First, stop the churn in deputy minister turnover. Fewer and fewer deputies stay in their respective departments for more than a couple of years now. Environment Canada is on its fifth deputy minister in eight years. This erodes corporate memory and expertise at the top, severs the link between responsibility and accountability in a department, and makes deputy ministers more amenable to short-term priorities and thinking.

Second, build back the research capacity for independent, evidence-based decision-making. Access to good, reliable data and information is at the core of sound policy and decisions. Governments are the ultimate knowledge-based institutions. So, why do we insist they operate without it?

Third, think out loud with smart, committed Canadians. Fear of failure is endemic to large bureaucracies, but fear of facing others in case one is challenged over politics is a recipe for idea ossification and policy stasis.

Fourth, build up the Canada School of Government from a management incubator to an idea accelerator. Use it to engage bright and controversial thinkers to challenge and test the public service’s own thinking.

Fifth, heed the maxim I once heard from a Clerk: It is unavoidable that governments get caught up in the short-term, but it is unforgivable that they ignore the long-term. Only governments have the mandate and capacity to think about what the future might bring. Seize that role and share what was learned with us all.

Think of it this way: Good policy is good politics.

Five ways to renew the public service – The Globe and Mail.