Feds talk a good game when it comes to equity, but are flailing when it comes to strong data, states Auditor General report

Source: Feds talk a good game when it comes to equity, but are flailing when it comes to strong data, states Auditor General report

Prison service must do more to remove barriers for Indigenous, Black offenders: AG

Of note. Another ongoing issue, one not easy to resolve but one would hope to see some ongoing progress:

The federal auditor general says Canada’s prison service has not given offenders timely access to programs to help ease them back into society, including courses specific to women, Indigenous people and visible minorities.

Auditor general Karen Hogan found Black and Indigenous offenders experienced poorer outcomes than any other groups in the federal correctional system and faced greater barriers to a safe and gradual return to the outside world.

Hogan pointed out her office raised similar issues in audits in 2015, 2016 and 2017, yet the correctional service has done little to change the policies, practices, tools and approaches that produce these differing outcomes.

Hogan says disparities were present from the moment offenders entered federal institutions.

The process for selecting security classifications saw Indigenous and Black offenders assigned to maximum-security institutions at twice the rate of other groups of offenders.

They also remained in federal custody longer and at higher levels of security before their release.

The audit found that timely access to correctional programs continued to decline across all groups of offenders. Access to programming, which teaches crucial skills like problem solving and goal setting, worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of men serving sentences of two to four years who were released from April to December 2021, 94 per cent had not completed the correctional programs they needed before they were first eligible to apply for day parole.

“This is a barrier to serving the remainder of their sentences under supervision in the community,” the report says.

The prison service needs to find a different way to organize programming, because “that timely access is so critical to an offender’s successful path forward,” Hogan said Tuesday at a news conference.

Correctional service efforts to support greater equity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace also fell short, leaving persistent barriers unresolved, the report says.

Close to one-quarter of management and staff had not completed mandatory diversity training a year after the deadline.

In addition, the prison service had not established a plan to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of its offender populations, which has particular relevance for institutions with high numbers of Indigenous and Black offenders, the report says.

Hogan noted the correctional service has acknowledged systemic racism in the system, initiating an anti-racism framework to identify and remove systemic barriers.

The service has agreed to act on the auditor general’s recommendations to remedy the various issues she identified.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino stressed efforts toward “rooting out racism in all of its forms” by diversifying the prison service’s workforce, improving our training and collecting data to inform policies. “And we know we’ve got a long way to go.”

Mendicino noted he recently directed the correctional service head to create a new position of deputy commissioner for Indigenous corrections, saying it will ensure the overrepresentation of Indigenous offenders in the system, especially women, is addressed.

Source: Prison service must do more to remove barriers for Indigenous, Black offenders: AG

Auditor-General to probe lapse in Canada’s pandemic warning system


Canada’s Auditor-General is planning to investigate what went wrong with the country’s once-vaunted early warning system for pandemics after the unit curtailed its surveillance work and ceased issuing alerts more than a year ago, raising questions about whether it failed when it was needed most.

Sources close to the matter said the Auditor-General is planning to probe the government’s handling of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN, which was a central part of the country’s advance surveillance, early detection and risk-assessment capacity for outbreaks.

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that a key part of GPHIN’s function was effectively shut down last spring, amid changing government priorities that shifted analysts to other work. According to 10 years of documents obtained by The Globe, the system went silent on May 24 last year, after issuing more than 1,500 alerts over the past decade about potential outbreaks including MERS, H1N1, avian flu and Ebola.

GPHIN was part of Canada’s contribution to the World Health Organization. Those alerts often helped Canada, the WHO and other countries assess outbreaks at their earliest stages to determine the urgency of the situation. It was responsible for alerting the WHO to the first signs of several potentially catastrophic events, including a 2009 outbreak of H1N1 in Mexico, a 2005 flare-up of bird flu in Iran that the government there tried to hide, and the 1998 emergence of SARS in China.

According to federal documents, “approximately 20 per cent of the WHO’s epidemiological intelligence” came from GPHIN. But sources from inside the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the analysts were stripped of their ability to independently issue alerts in late 2018. Those alerts, which had garnered GPHIN a global reputation as a leader in pandemic intelligence, had to be approved by senior management, a move that ultimately silenced the system.

Several past and present employees told The Globe that the government had grown wary of GPHIN’s mandate in recent years, believing it was too internationally focused, given that pandemic events were rare. Analysts were given domestic projects to focus on that didn’t involve global surveillance, and the operation’s early-warning capacity soon suffered. Over the past decade, doctors inside Public Health also began to fear their messages weren’t being heard, or understood, on important topics, the employees said, which affected Canada’s readiness for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Auditor-General is also planning to look at Canada’s risk assessments during the pandemic, which may have affected the speed and urgency of mitigation measures, such as border closings, airport shutdowns and the use of protective masks. Throughout January, February and into March, the government maintained the risk the virus posed to Canada was “Low,” even as evidence of human-to-human spread became increasingly evident around the world. Canada didn’t elevate its risk rating to “High” until March 16, nearly seven weeks after the WHO declared the global risk was high and urged countries to start preparing.

The Office of the Auditor-General has previously signalled that it would be taking a critical look at the federal government’s response to COVID-19, but the probe of GPHIN is now among its top priorities, according to sources familiar with the matter. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly and the Auditor-General, as a matter of course, does not comment publicly on its investigations. The work is to be completed late this year or early next year.

“It’s still early in the process,” said Vincent Frigon, spokesman for the Office of the Auditor-General. “We don’t comment on ongoing audits, however when we do have a better idea of what’s the scope of the audit we should be able to release the information. … We should have a more specific timeline later this year.”

A PHAC spokesman said the agency would assist in the audit. “The Auditor-General plays an important role in Canada’s democracy as a key Officer of Parliament,” PHAC said in an e-mailed statement. “The Public Health Agency of Canada is fully prepared to assist the Office of the Auditor-General as they work on their audit of the Government’s pandemic preparedness and response.”

Few outside GPHIN knew the operation had curtailed its outbreak surveillance work to the extent it had. When a senior public health official addressed the WHO in November, the government described the system as still active. In a 2018 assessment of Canada’s pandemic preparedness capabilities, the WHO referred to GPHIN as the “cornerstone” of Canada’s pandemic response capability, and “the foundation” of global early warning, where signals are “rapidly acted upon” and “trigger a cascade of actions” by governments.

The unit, which involves roughly a dozen highly trained epidemiologists and doctors fluent in multiple languages, began as an experiment in the 1990s during the advent of the internet, but was elevated after the 2003 SARS crisis, when Canada realized it needed to be better prepared for serious outbreaks.

When fully operational, it was a combination of machine learning and human analysis, with GPHIN’s algorithms sifting through more than 7,000 data points from around the world each day, from local news reports and online discussions to arcane medical data, searching for unusual patterns. Those were then narrowed down for closer analysis by medical experts.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/investigations/article-auditor-general-to-probe-oversight-of-countrys-pandemic-warning/

Almost 35,000 people pegged for removal from Canada evade border agency

Overall, pretty devastating report.

One aspect that I found particularly of interest is that the numbers have largely remained the same over the past three years. Unfortunately, the OAG report did not include earlier years in its analysis:

Canada’s border agency has failed to promptly remove most of the people under orders to leave the country, and in tens of thousands of cases it has simply lost track of them, the federal auditor general says.

In a report tabled Wednesday in Parliament, the auditor said the Canada Border Services Agency’s efforts were hampered by poor data quality and case-management flaws, resulting in avoidable delays in thousands of cases.

Problems in information-sharing with immigration officials also slowed things down.

The border agency is responsible for carrying out removal orders to ensure public safety and the integrity of the immigration system.

The report noted the federal government had made significant investments over the last decade to improve the efficiency of the asylum system, including removals.

However, the level of enforceable removal orders — those involving people who have exhausted or waived all legal avenues to stay in Canada — remained largely unchanged, even for priority cases.

As of April 2019, there were about 50,000 people in Canada with enforceable removal orders. Two-thirds of these — 34,700 cases — involved individuals whose whereabouts were unknown. Of these, 2,800 had criminal histories.

Still, the border agency was often not conducting regular follow-ups to try to find them by opening each file at least every three years, or once a year for people with criminal issues.

Data integrity shortcomings limited the agency’s ability to know which removal orders to enforce, the report said.

“Without a reliable inventory of removal orders, the agency could not effectively prioritize removals according to risk and complexity. We also found cases in which the agency was unaware that removal orders had been issued,” it said.

“Many cases we examined were also stalled because officers had done little to overcome impediments like missing travel documents.”

The auditor noted that many countries, mostly in Europe, offer assistance programs that promote the voluntary return of foreign nationals to their countries of origin. Some operate through independent third parties and are not limited to failed asylum claimants, the report said.

“All recognize that voluntary returns are preferred to enforced removals, are more cost-effective, and facilitate rapid departures.”

The government will do a better job of ensuring the integrity of the system, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged at a news briefing Wednesday.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, the cabinet member responsible for the border agency, said the government accepts the auditor’s recommendations to fix the various problems.

In addition to improving its removals strategy, the border agency will enhance the way it tracks and triages cases to ensure priority ones are addressed promptly, Blair said in a statement.

“This includes continuing to implement a data integrity strategy to ensure that it can quickly identify the stages all cases are at so they can move forward in a timely fashion.”

The border agency is taking steps to find foreign nationals whose whereabouts are unknown by reviewing all outstanding cases, prioritizing criminal cases and focusing investigations on the most serious ones, Blair added.

Finally, the agency will develop an “incentive program” to increase voluntary compliance, he said.

The agency’s problems with managing removals date back more than a decade, long before the Liberals took the government reins from the Conservatives.

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it was another example of the Liberal government being unable to ensure a fair, orderly and compassionate immigration system. “We need a government that takes this kind of thing seriously.”

NDP public safety critic Jack Harris said the Liberals must make sure the border agency “has sufficient resources to perform their duties.”

Source: Almost 35,000 people pegged for removal from Canada evade border agency

Bagnall: Phoenix — a disaster so bad, it just might spark real change

Good analysis by Bagnall:

While software experts sort through the technical problems, the government has gone on a hiring binge so Public Services and other federal departments can begin to make a dent in pay requests that require manual processing. The irony, of course, is that the Conservatives, starting in 2014, had reduced the number of compensation advisers across government from 2,000 to 1,350 in anticipation of a more efficient system.

The government today now employs more compensation advisers and support staff than it did prior to the launch of Phoenix — counting the employees within departments who have recently been reassigned — temporarily, one hopes — to handle pay issues.

Such is the “all-hands-on-deck” sentiment throughout government that even the public service unions are contemplating agreeing to simpler language in dozens of collective agreements.

They have a number of incentives to make changes in contract language, even if it potentially eliminates certain types of overtime pay or complex provisions relating to paid leave. Labour leaders have been inundated with demands from members to help get Phoenix fixed. Few blame the unions for the broken system but blame is no longer the point.

Phoenix has been in crisis so long that government employees are now making career decisions stemming from their fear of payroll consequences. If they transfer to another department, retire, go on paternity leave or accept a raise, will they be able to weather a temporary loss of pay?

There are other knock-on effects of Phoenix, most notably in other departments that are also managing complex information technology projects. Earlier this year, the Department of National Defence cancelled a procurement that would have linked part of its pay system to Phoenix. Departments are also evaluating whether they should manage IT projects in a different manner altogether.

The federal government has a long history of top-down management — intricate, massive designs that try to anticipate every contingency. But by the time all aspects are locked in, the world of technology has moved on.

In the case of Phoenix, project managers seemed to understand the risks and potential complications of the system they were proposing — but at a theoretical level. The auditor general made it clear that very little was ready when the system was launched at a practical level — not the software, the processes or the oversight. When the system early on began sounding warning sirens, those managing Phoenix didn’t know how to ask the right questions to establish a fix.

This knowledge gap existed because Public Services and Procurement Canada tried to do everything itself.

Ferguson concluded his report by urging Public Services and Treasury Board — the federal government’s main employer — to develop a sustainable repair for Phoenix based on a fuller understanding of the system’s underlying flaws.

Ideally such a fix would address the culture that produces such IT disasters. There’s too little direct experience in IT, too much fear of making errors that embarrass cabinet members and top brass in the department, too little feedback from the rest of government.

Getting all this right might mean we’d never have to read another report as damning as the one Ferguson delivered Tuesday.

via Bagnall: Phoenix — a disaster so bad, it just might spark real change | Ottawa Citizen

Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor

Which program has the OAG not found problems with?

Highlights oversight and enforcement capacity issues within government. Above chart shows both temporary workers under the TFWP and the International Mobility Program:

Canada’s temporary foreign workers program is rife with oversight problems that appear to have allowed lower-paid international workers to take jobs that out-of-work Canadians could fill, the federal auditor general says.

Some companies have effectively built a business model on the program that could be having unintended consequences that the government doesn’t know about, including wage suppression or discouraging capital investment and innovation, said Michael Ferguson’s report on the program, part of a fresh batch of federal audits tabled Tuesday.

Ferguson’s report says the government approved applications for temporary foreign workers even when employers had not demonstrated reasonable efforts to train existing employees or hire unemployed Canadians, including those from under-represented groups, such as First Nations.

Nor did officials effectively crack down on companies that were found to have run afoul of the rules; few on-site inspections or face-to-face interviews with the foreign workers themselves were conducted, the audit found. Even when corrective action was recommended, it took months for all the necessary approvals.

Ferguson is calling for better oversight of the program and more pushback from federal officials to ensure companies applying to hire temporary foreign workers are doing so for the right reasons.

The department overseeing the program, Employment and Social Development Canada, says it plans to implement all of Ferguson’s recommendations.

Ferguson’s report comes months after a Commons committee recommended an overhaul to the program, and three years after the previous Conservative government made changes in a bid to ensure the program worked as intended: to help companies fill job vacancies only when qualified Canadians couldn’t be found for the work, and only when it didn’t negatively affect the local labour market.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada dropped from 163,000 to just over 90,000, a result of the 2014 changes and the economic downturn.

Despite the drop in numbers, the audit team said it found numerous cases where employers gave dizzying reasons for needing a temporary foreign worker that departmental officials failed to challenge in 40 per cent of the cases reviewed as part of the audit.

Source: Temporary foreign worker program rife with oversight problems, says auditor – Macleans.ca

Government consistently fails to fix mistakes, Auditor-General says [need for citizen-centred program delivery]

Strong condemnation, widely noted. Despite the many years and efforts with respect to performance management and reporting, shows just how entrenched the government remains in measuring process and outputs, rather than results for citizens.

And ‘deliverology’ is unlikely to change this, as it is easier to track political commitments met, than actual benefits and outcomes for citizens.

During my time at Service Canada, we spent considerable time and effort to develop service strategies that aimed to place the citizen at the heart of service delivery, not the program management. There was considerable resistance from the various program branches, who were more comfortable, given the nature of accountabilities, to operate within silos. The slide below highlights the nature of change proposed, with the left showing the program and service maze, the right showing a more citizen-centric way of organizing programs.


Canada’s Auditor-General says the federal government must adjust the way it does business after a broad evaluation in which he says departments fail to consider whether their services actually benefit Canadians, cannot stay ahead of emerging trends and do not correct inadequacies even after they have been pointed out.

In marking the midpoint of his 10-year term, Michael Ferguson used his fall report to take an unusual step back from the assessments of specific programs to point to more systemic problems. Parliament, said Mr. Ferguson, uses his reports to learn about things that have gone wrong but does not ensure that changes are made to set them right.

“What about programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services?” asked Mr. Ferguson. “I am also talking about problems like regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate, and public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on….”

Departments and agencies work in silos, he said, failing to learn from what others outside, or even inside, their own organizations are doing.

“Our audits come across the same problems in different organizations time and time again. Even more concerning is that, when we come back to audit the same area again, we often find that program results have not improved,” said Mr. Ferguson. “In just five years, with some 100 performance audits and special examinations behind me since I began my mandate, the results of some audits seem to be – in the immortal words of Yogi Berra – ‘déjà vu all over again.’ ”

For instance, said Mr. Ferguson, many past audits have revealed the government’s lack of focus on Canadians who are the end users of its services.

And that trend continues in a new study of the Beyond the Border Action Plan which was introduced in December, 2011, to enhance security and the flow of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border. Five years and $585-million later, the departments and agencies involved cannot show how the measures that were part of the plan have made Canadians safer or accelerated the movement of either trade or travellers.

“We found that, where performance indicators were developed,” says the audit, “they measured whether activities and deliverables were completed, not the resulting benefits.”

Source: Government consistently fails to fix mistakes, Auditor-General says – The Globe and Mail

His full message is also worth reading beyond the excerpt below and soundbites above:

In the interest of assisting our still-new Parliament in carrying out its oversight role and of helping government “do service well,” I believe there is value in looking back over the body of work produced by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada. This is a way to identify those issues that show up in audit after audit, year after year, and sometimes persist for decades.

These problems include departments and agencies struggling to work outside their silos, either to learn from what is happening within their organizations, or more broadly, to learn from what their external counterparts are doing.

And what about programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services? What about programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served? In such cases, the perception of the service is very different depending on whether you are talking to the service provider or to the citizen trying to navigate the red tape.

I am also talking about problems like regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate, and public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used. Our audits come across these same problems in different organizations time and time again. Even more concerning is that when we come back to audit the same area again, we often find that program results have not improved.

Lack of focus on citizens

In our system of government, Parliament makes the rules, departments and agencies carry out the wishes of Parliament, and citizens receive the services. At least, that is the way the system is designed. Over the years, our audit work has revealed government’s lack of focus on end-users, Canadians.

Message from the Auditor General

Gaps in Ottawa’s detection of citizenship fraud, auditor finds

I did not find this OAG study all that surprising, particularly the challenges of maintaining accurate and consistent database records (e.g., spelling of addresses) and the lack of consistent follow-up to any cases flagged.

One of the lasting legacies of the Conservative government was increased attention to the integrity of the program, beyond the issues identified in the OAG report (e.g., rotating citizenship test questions, more rigorous and consistent language assessment, and the integrity measures of C-24).

But like many OAG reports, it is weak with respect to the materiality of fraud and the gaps it uncovered.

Six addresses out of 9,778 that IRCC officials missed is 0.06 percent. Other aspects are more problematic, multiple versions of addresses in particular, as well as lack of follow-up to warning flags and coordination between IRCC and RCMP or CBSA.

IRCC’s own number of revocation cases pending is 700, again a relatively small number (0.14 percent) compared to  the large numbers of new citizens in the past two years (500,000). And of course there is no comparative data in the report on permanent residency, EI, CPP or other program fraud to relate compare these numbers with.

So while any fraud is by definition unacceptable, the realities of large programs means that some degree, as small as possible, is inevitable, and ongoing attention to reducing its incidence is necessary:

Canada’s immigration department did not properly detect and prevent citizenship fraud, resulting in the review of some 700 citizenship cases as of January, according to Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s spring report.

The report, tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday morning, found a number of concerns in the citizenship program affecting the department’s capability to prevent citizenship fraud, including the absence of a method to identify and document fraud risks.

“We concluded that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) efforts to detect and prevent citizenship fraud were not adequate,” said Mr. Ferguson in a prepared statement. “These gaps make it difficult for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to assess the impacts of its efforts to combat citizenship fraud.”

…According to the report, the most common reasons for revoking citizenship are residency and identity fraud, and undeclared criminal proceedings.

The report found that citizenship officers did not consistently apply their own methods to identify and prevent fraud when dealing with suspicious immigration documents, such as altered passports. For example, in one region, citizenship officers did not seize any suspicious documents for in-depth analysis since at least 2010, while they did in another.

It was also found that citizenship officers did not have the information they needed to properly identify “problem addresses” when making decisions to grant citizenship. Problem addresses are those known or suspected to be associated with fraud, and used by citizenship applicants to meet residency requirements for citizenship.

“For example, one address was not identified as a problem even though it had been used by 50 different applicants, seven of whom were granted citizenship,” said Mr. Ferguson.

The problem was further complicated by poor sharing of information with the RCMP, which provides information about criminal behaviour among permanent residents, and the Canada Border Services Agency, which leads investigations of immigration fraud, said the report.

While the department did not track the exact number of citizenship fraud risks, it reported 700 pending revocation cases as of January. According to the report, revoking citizenship after fraud is discovered is “time consuming and costly.”

Source: Gaps in Ottawa’s detection of citizenship fraud, auditor finds – The Globe and Mail,

Dozens of fraudsters and suspected criminals became Canadian citizens, watchdog says in damning report

Liberals order investigation into possible citizenship fraud

ICYMI: Highlights from the federal auditor general’s latest report – Gender-based analysis

Not terribly surprising that the government’s implementation has been hit and miss.

Will be interesting to see how the new government, under Status of Women Minister Hajdu, implements its mandate commitment, and whether this gets broadened to include other aspects of diversity, particularly visible minorities:

Work with the Privy Council Office to ensure that a gender-based analysis is applied to proposals before they arrive at Cabinet for decision-making. –

The OAG summary:

Some 20 years after gender-based analysis was first adopted, only a relative handful of federal departments and agencies use the tool to analyze how policy decisions might impact women and men differently; for those that do, the analyses are often incomplete or inconsistent.

There is no mandatory requirement subjecting policy, legislation and program decisions to gender-based analysis.

Source: Highlights from the federal auditor general’s latest report – Macleans.ca

Auditor General: Billions in tax breaks given without proper oversight

I always remember the smugness and sometimes even arrogance of Finance officials in their criticism of MCs, TB submissions and other issues in pointing out weaknesses. The issue was not so much pointing out weaknesses (that is their role) but rather the tone and manner in making their points (TBS shared this trait).

So it is with some satisfaction to see Finance on the receiving end, recognizing that some of this reflects political, not official decisions.

Finance Canada is failing to properly manage billions of dollars in tax credits it offers to Canadians and, in many cases, does not know if they are relevant, effective or achieving the government’s goals, says the federal auditor general.

The Finance Department also does not provide adequate information to parliamentarians on the tens of billions of dollars in so-called tax-based expenditures, Auditor General Michael Ferguson says in a stinging report released Tuesday.

Among his criticisms – which, coincidentally, come at the height of the tax season and just a week after a federal budget touting tax relief – is the government’s failure to include the projected future cost of its many tax breaks.

Opposition parties, spending watchdogs and many economists have for years criticized some of the “boutique” tax credits offered up by the Conservative government, and have instead called for more broad-based tax relief rather than the targeted measures they say are being used to buy votes.

… In its audit, Ferguson’s office examined the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, equity, implementation costs and how frequently the credits were evaluated, among other factors.

The auditor general found examples of where Finance Canada identified issues with certain tax credits before implementing them, but – despite those potential problems – has yet to evaluate the tax measures.

“Overall, we concluded that the department fell short on managing tax-based expenditures. We reached this conclusion because these expenditures were not systematically evaluated and the information reported did not adequately support parliamentary oversight,” Ferguson says in his report.

The auditor general made three recommendations to Finance Canada, which have been accepted by the government.

They include conducting “systematic and ongoing” evaluations that assess a tax measure’s relevance and appropriateness, determining whether the tax system is the most effective way to meet the desired policy objective, and establishing whether to retain, abolish or modify certain tax credits.

Ferguson also recommended the government improve its reporting practices on the billions of dollars in tax credits, including providing projected cost estimates in future years, and more timely and relevant information for parliamentarians.

Auditor General: Billions in tax breaks given without proper oversight | Ottawa Citizen.