Clerk Report to PM 2022 – Service Delivery Language [more candour required]

Like all government reports (save audits and evaluations), the Clerk report focuses on successes, not failures. Certainly, COVID financial support and vaccine procurement are right to be highlighted as overall successes, as are ongoing efforts to increase diversity and representation, as highlighted in the report and data tables.

But its characterization of how the government responded to Afghan refugees following the Taliban takeover presents a far more positive picture than warranted, to be diplomatic.

But looking ahead, curious to see how the recent failures of government service delivery (i.e., passports and immigration) will be treated in the 2023 report, given this 2022 commitment:

Deliver results for Canadians.

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis and we have learned much from this. But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support, to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better, and they should be supported in taking thoughtful risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic will help us get there.

Certainly, some honesty regarding the public service service delivery failings will be needed for the 2023 report’s (and Clerk’s) credibility.

To be mischievous, I redrafted this paragraph for the 2023 report to encourage drafters of next year’s report to be more candid regarding areas where the government had significant policy and program failures (“challenges” in bureaucratese):

Deliver results for Canadians – Lessons learned from program failures

We have clearly shown the Public Service’s (in) ability to step up and overcome every obstacle to get things done and (fail to) deliver real results for Canadians. We have proven what we can do during times of crisis (and what we cannot do) and we have learned much from this (particularly from failures in passport and immigration service delivery). But this has also disrupted our usual lines of work. Now, we must apply what we have learned (from successes and failures) to how we approach everything —from delivering core programs and services to responding to unexpected challenges. We must renew focus on service delivery in order to restore trust. We must build on our enhanced capacity to deliver digitally, including real time status updates and greater transparency, while holding true to the importance of providing in-person support (including reducing waiting times and lines), to ensure every Canadian gets the service and results they need in a timely manner. Public servants should feel empowered to ask how things could be done better (without penalty), and they should be supported in taking thoughtful (to be defined) risks in how we implement to achieve results for Canadians. The lessons we learned from the pandemic (service failures) will help us get there.

Source: 29th Annual Report to the Prime Minister on the Public Service of Canada

Noël: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent [call for policy and program modestly]

Echoes the calls by others but nevertheless important.

Money quote: “le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.”

Je n’étais pas en avance, c’est vrai, mais au début juillet, tard en soirée, je faisais des réservations pour un séjour de camping à Terre-Neuve et en Nouvelle-Écosse. Les réservations pour le traversier entre les deux provinces, opéré par Marine Atlantique, une société d’État fédérale, se sont avérées plutôt simples, tout comme celles pour des parcs provinciaux dans chaque province. Mais pour réserver des sites au parc national du Gros-Morne et à celui des Hautes-Terres-du-Cap-Breton, c’était un peu plus stressant. Avant de pouvoir réserver, il fallait créer une « CléGC (Service de gestion des justificatifs du gouvernement du Canada) », avec un nom d’utilisateur (toutes les variantes de mon nom ont été refusées), un mot de passe, et des réponses à une panoplie de questions. Pas un obstacle majeur, mais un processus un peu lourd pour une si petite tâche. À Ottawa, les missions les plus simples semblent souvent devenir complexes.

Tout ne va pas mal au Canada. Une étude parue à la fin juin dans le Canadian Medical Association Journal montre que, pour les deux premières années de la pandémie, le pays s’est classé parmi les meilleurs pour le nombre de cas, le taux de vaccination et la mortalité excédentaire, avec un bilan économique somme toute satisfaisant. Au Canada, ce sont les provinces atlantiques et le Québec qui ont connu les plus faibles taux de mortalité excédentaire.

Mais quelque part sur l’interminable voie de sortie de la pandémie, le bilan du gouvernement fédéral s’est détérioré. Cafouillage dans l’émission des visas et des passeports, congestion dans les aéroports, délais inacceptables à l’assurance-emploi, accueil difficile des réfugiés, traitement déficient des dossiers d’immigration, les échecs semblent s’accumuler.

Tout ne va pas nécessairement mieux dans les provinces. Il y a même des domaines où les ratés sont habituels, voire pérennes. La gestion des soins de santé constitue un cas patent. Mais dans ce cas, c’est largement une question de ressources. En 2019-2020, les soins de santé représentaient 41,4 % des dépenses de portefeuilles des provinces, comparativement à 31 % en 1981-1982. La même année, la contribution fédérale, par le biais du Transfert canadien en matière de santé, était tombée à 22,4 %. Si les provinces ne font pas mieux en santé, c’est largement parce que d’une année à l’autre elles doivent faire plus avec moins.

Dans d’autres domaines, comme en environnement, il s’agit plus clairement d’un manque de volonté politique. Si le ministre de l’Environnement du Québec « avait les convictions, la volonté, le courage et l’autorité morale nécessaires pour relever le défi de l’urgence climatique », écrivait récemment le chroniqueur Michel David, François Legault ne l’aurait pas choisi pour ce poste.

Mais émettre des visas et des passeports, acheminer des prestations d’assurance-emploi, traiter des demandes à l’immigration ? Le gouvernement fédéral a sûrement les ressources pour accomplir ces tâches et il devrait même être capable de marquer des points dans des secteurs qu’il contrôle depuis toujours, qui sont visibles et significatifs pour les citoyens et ne demandent pas des ressources faramineuses. « Il ne fallait pas être un génie », déplorait récemment l’ancien greffier du Bureau du Conseil privé Paul Tellier, « pour prédire qu’il y aurait une hausse des demandes de passeport » au sortir de la pandémie.

M. Tellier attribue les difficultés du gouvernement Trudeau à la centralisation excessive de la gestion autour du premier ministre et à la méfiance qui en découle entre élus et fonctionnaires. D’autres auteurs blâment le jeu politique, qui amène les élus à négliger les conseils et les actions des fonctionnaires.

Plus plausible, à mon avis, est le constat de l’ancien haut fonctionnaire Ralph Heintzman selon lequel le gouvernement fédéral se désintéresse des services aux citoyens depuis au moins trente ans. Dans la fonction publique fédérale, le prestige est associé aux conseils et à la stratégie, pas à la gestion compétente des programmes en place. Une carrière ascendante se caractérise par des sauts rapides d’un ministère à l’autre, pour appliquer à des niveaux supérieurs des méthodes de gestion largement indifférenciées. Consacrer trop d’années à maîtriser un domaine d’intervention gouvernementale semble manifester un manque d’ambition. Les hauts fonctionnaires voient ainsi les choses de haut. Quant aux élus, ils préfèrent annoncer des programmes plutôt que de veiller à leur bon cheminement.

Mais pourquoi ces travers semblent-ils plus prononcés à Ottawa ? Pour le comprendre, il faut considérer le fonctionnement de la fédération canadienne. Un rapport récent de l’Institut sur la gouvernance rapporte les propos d’un haut fonctionnaire qui note que « nous ne sommes pas un pays cohésif. Nous sommes une grande fédération ». On pourrait interpréter ce constat comme un appel de plus à davantage de collaboration entre les ordres de gouvernement. Mais il semble plus juste d’y voir une caractéristique structurelle, une condition d’existence du Canada.

La figure 1 ci-dessous montre bien pourquoi la gestion quotidienne de services aux citoyens n’est pas le fort du gouvernement fédéral.

Figure 1 : Dépenses du gouvernement fédéral et du gouvernement du Québec, 2021Sources : Comptes publics du Canada ; Comptes publics du Québec

Le gouvernement fédéral est un animal particulier, plus habitué à émettre des transferts aux individus, aux entreprises et aux gouvernements, et à énoncer des normes associées à ces transferts, qu’à livrer des services à la population. L’année 2021 exagère un peu le trait, puisque la pandémie a engendré son lot de transferts exceptionnels. Mais la logique générale ne change pas. Il y a plus de vingt ans, le rapport de la Commission sur le déséquilibre fiscal faisait état de proportions assez semblables.

Les difficultés actuelles du gouvernement Trudeau ne sont donc pas si exceptionnelles. Le gouvernement fédéral demeure principalement une machine à récolter et à distribuer des ressources fiscales et il a tendance à se perdre quand il s’agit de gérer des programmes concrets.

La solution réside donc moins dans une réforme additionnelle de la fonction publique fédérale que dans une meilleure compréhension du fonctionnement de la fédération. En premier lieu, il faudrait améliorer l’équilibre fiscal en laissant davantage de ressources propres aux gouvernements provinciaux, dont la tâche principale consiste justement à livrer des services à la population.

Ensuite, pour des raisons évidentes, il conviendrait de prendre avec un grain de sel les volontés de leadership fédérales sur des questions de compétence provinciale. Notant dans une formulation bien à lui qu’en santé « ce n’est pas juste pitcher de l’argent vers le problème qui va le résoudre », M. Trudeau invitait récemment les provinces à des « conversations » afin de réduire les délais d’attente. Compte tenu de l’état de ses services, il devrait se garder une petite gêne.

En fait, le gouvernement fédéral devrait probablement modérer ses ambitions dans ses propres sphères de compétence, en adoptant des objectifs plus réalistes en immigration par exemple, afin d’éviter les échecs récurrents de gestion.

Mais les difficultés actuelles ne sont pas nouvelles, et elles ne se résorberont pas facilement.

Source: Quand les gouvernements trébuchent

Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

All true and necessary, but government has mixed record on such large and complex IT projects.

Even harder is the necessary simplification and streamlining of programs and processes that would facilitate IT and related modernization:

Canadians are missing flights, cancelling trips and even camping out overnight at government offices as the passport application process has utterly failed to keep up with post-pandemic demand.

With anger and frustration over the delays flaring into a national issue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a task force of ten cabinet members to try to address the problem and figure out how to end the backlogs on passports and immigration processing.

This comes not long after Auditor General Karen Hogan found veterans seeking disability benefits also face unacceptable delays in the processing of their applications by Veteran Affairs Canada.

Hogan found veterans applying for disability benefits waiting almost 40 weeks for a decision on their first application compared to the 16-week average processing time for other benefits packages. And she reported that the department’s inability to meet timely delivery standards has been going on for seven years.

As governments struggle to fix these problems, it has to be pointed out that a simple automated solution is readily at hand. It’s just a question of the government’s ability to take advantage of it.

Better data management

In fact, the current backlogs on passports, immigration paperwork and veterans’ applications are nothing less than case studies in the need for digital innovation to enable government departments to quickly and efficiently upgrade service delivery and deliver a better experience for Canadians.

Organizations around the world are increasingly leveraging intelligent automation, particularly Robotic Process Automation (RPA), to tackle business challenges, including the need for greater efficiency, reduced processing time and better data.

Addressing shortcomings in data operations is one of the hallmarks of RPA, a software technology that uses digital workers for repetitive tasks like data entry and validation. RPA reliably captures and handles data faster and more accurately, while streamlining the client experience. As importantly, RPA frees employees from repetitive, mundane work, allowing them to be more productive and focus on better solutions.

Solutions seen globally

For example, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has adopted RPA solutions to address persistent service problems similar to those faced by Veterans Affairs Canada. Among other improvements, the U.S. VA has saved over 500,000 hours by leveraging RPA in its mailroom. It has successfully automated the review and classification of more than 8,000 physical mail packets on a daily basis, representing 277 unique document types.

Such examples of positive RPA implementation are myriad. For instance, ATB Financial, Alberta’s Crown-owned bank, has used RPA to achieve a 99 per cent improvement in turnaround time for end-to-end processes, as well as other upgrades. Other sectors worldwide have successfully implemented RPA technology, including in accounting, retail trade, government, professional services and manufacturing.

The Canadian government is, of course, well aware of the game-changing potential for service delivery through intelligent automation, and is committed to digital transformation in its 46 departments and agencies. But it started this process from a weak position, with officials informing Prime Minister Trudeau that critical federal computer systems and applications were “rusting out and at risk of failure.”

The federal government has committed billions of dollars to new digital operations, and Shared Services Canada has been mandated to modernize these systems, but accomplishing overall change in such a massive, traditionally-siloed organization has proven challenging. Despite its efforts, the government acknowledges that some of its services are still hard to access and use.

Changing expectations

The demand for processing improvements is on the rise. The pandemic has produced a transformation in services and online access across the socio-economic landscape, and Canadians increasingly expect governments to meet this standard.

“We’re at a point where digital matters so much … we saw that amplified in the last two years,” Catherine Luelo, who was appointed the federal chief information officer last year, recently told CIO.com. In Budget 2022, the government promised legislation allowing it to expand availability of its digital platform services, including in other jurisdictions in Canada, and Luelo is working on ways to accelerate the institution-wide transformation away from legacy technology at the federal level.

Indeed, as thousands of frustrated would-be travellers can attest, the opportunities for RPA-based improvements have never been greater as the government tries to reopen services in the face of post-COVID demand. RPA is able to be procured by individual government departments and could quickly assist in speeding up passport and immigration processing. Intelligent automation could also provide solutions to the service problems now causing long wait times at airports in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

When service providers modernize their administration processes using RPA, they are not only able to realize solutions to specific needs but also make their operations scalable. This scalability through intelligent automation is the key tool needed to respond effectively to the surge in demand that has been so badly tying up the country’s passport offices and airports, with no end in sight.

Michael McGeehan is the North American Intelligent Automation Leader at SS&C Blue Prism.

Source: Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

May: The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco

Agree. Service delivery unfortunately the poor cousin compared to policy and program development. Previous governments missed opportunity with Service Canada to transform government around service delivery.

Valid risk concerns yet here we are again with service failures, driven in part by governments more interested in new policy and program initiatives, as our senior public servants most who rose through the ranks on their policy work:

Delivering services to Canadians has been an Achilles heel of the federal government for 30 years because of political disinterest and a senior management of “travelling salesmen,” who hop from job to job and barely know the business of the departments they lead, says the former senior bureaucrat who proposed the creation of Service Canada.

“You have deputy ministers and senior executives … who very rarely have deep experience and knowledge of departments, operations and services for which they’re responsible. They haven’t worked their way up in that department and are flying blind to a significant degree,” said Ralph Heintzman, who also launched the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service and the Public Sector Service Delivery Council.

This constant churn of executives moving in and out of jobs has created a public service with “little learning experience, no constancy of purpose or corporate memory.”  That makes it very hard for the government to “maintain a focus on service improvement or anything for a long period of time,” he said.

But Heintzman says those are foundational reasons for why service has never been given the attention it deserves. Then come all the operational problems: underfunding, old technology systems that never get replaced, poorly trained and disengaged employees, lack of planning and little accountability for poor service.

Passport and immigration backlogs with long lineups of frustrated and fuming Canadians at Service Canada offices across the country in recent weeks prompted the government to create a new ministerial task force to find ways to improve service.

The 10-member task force is expected to make recommendations outlining short and longer-term solutions that would reduce wait times, clear backlogs and improve the overall quality of services provided.

Big barriers to improving service are investment in technology and recruiting the right people. That’s money and, notably, the minister of finance is not a member of the task force. The task force also comes as the government is launching a strategic review to find $6 billion in savings.

“They now have two conflicting objectives and can’t have it both ways. Which objective will trump the other? If they want to improve service, they will have to spend some money on technology, training and staffing levels,” said Michael Wernick, a former clerk of the Privy Council and the new Jarislowsky Chairin Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa.

But Heintzman says many of the problems with service delivery are the same as in 1998 when he first presented Treasury Board ministers with a plan for Service Canada, a single one-stop agency to focus on delivery and citizen satisfaction. When the plan was rolled out in 2005, it was billed as the single biggest operational reform in federal history.

And it was all built on putting citizens first, or what he calls serving Canadians “outside in” rather than “inside out.”

“The whole idea of Service Canada was to help increase the standard of service and citizens’ satisfaction with government service.  So, when I see those photos of people lined up around Service Canada offices, there’s a pang in my heart,” said Heintzman.

But what’s different now is trust in government is falling like a stone and a wave of populism is exploiting those backlogs to drive the message that government isn’t working.

Heintzman says the research is clear. The satisfaction of Canadians with service is directly tied to citizens’ trust in government.

“One of the reasons why governments should invest in and pay attention to the quality of service is citizen trust,” said Heintzman.

“It makes me even more anxious now, when there are people eager and willing to seize upon the failures of the government to use them as an excuse for attacks on democracy and on the public sector.”

Public servants have two jobs. They offer policy advice and deliver programs and services to Canadians.

Service delivery has long been the poor cousin to policy. The way services are designed and delivered is often dictated by the internal needs of public servants and all the processes and rules they must follow. That means users and frontline workers — who know the ins and outs of how programs work — aren’t always heard.

Frontline managers also rarely make it to the top and ambitious public servants opt for the policy jobs. Executives typically manage up and into ministers’ offices and the Privy Council Office, rather than “manage down to line operations and out to citizens,” said Heintzman.

Prime ministers, ministers, even deputy ministers, pay little attention to operations or service delivery until there’s a crisis. The focus is all policy and “announceables,” not execution.

Knowing politicians aren’t that interested, senior bureaucrats are reluctant to bring up operational problems or push for technology projects to help improve services – especially after the disastrous Phoenix pay system.

“Three-quarters of the responsibility for performance in service delivery rests with the public service,” said Heintzman. “It has to be a public service issue, not only for execution, but in making it a political issue by including it in their priorities to ministers and for funding.”

The government has pinned its efforts to improve services and trust on digital technology. But Heintzman worries the emphasis on technology loses sight of citizens and how to improve service. In many departments, service is rolled into the responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer where the focus is on the latest software, hardware and apps.

“There should be a chief service officer of the government to whom the people responsible for information [management] and IT report, but the tail should not be wagging the dog. The objective is promising a proper service to people of Canada not running an IM-IT operation,” said Heintzman.

A focus on technology brings an “inside-out” approach to service, which means services are built around the priorities of the managers and department, not citizens.

Departments also don’t pay enough attention to service satisfaction – tracking how Canadians view a service and rate it – which Heintzman argues is the only way to improve service.

Rather than measure satisfaction, the government focuses on results and inputs. The Liberals created a “results and delivery unit” modelled after the deliverology theory of Britain’s Michael Barber that did little to improve service.

Heintzman says departments don’t plan enough. They don’t set targets or deadlines built around how they want to improve a service over the long run.  Service standards are set “inside out” with promises to answer a call, fix a complaint or provide a service within a certain time, which are “set to suit the people inside and have nothing to do with what people want or need in the way of delivery.”

They also don’t study the drivers of customer satisfaction, which varies by type of service and whether accessed by phone, in-person or online. Timeliness is the big one, but competence, courtesy, fairness, outcomes and value all influence satisfaction.

Heintzman argues managers should be held accountable for the quality of service, perhaps by linking their annual performance pay to client satisfaction. Central agencies such as Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office abdicated leadership in service delivery by turning it over to departments.

And finally, the government should professionalize service delivery. The Institute of Citizen-Centred Service was created to train and certify public servants, at any level, who manage services. Service delivery needs a “holistic approach” that reinforces how the pieces connect; happy and engaged employees are the key to customer satisfaction, which in turn fosters trust in government.

“Service delivery is part of the proper functioning of a democratic government. If we can’t do that properly, we’re undermining our democracy,” said Heintzman.

Source: The Achilles heel of the federal public service gives out again with passport fiasco

Prime Minister announces new task force to improve government services for Canadians: When in doubt, appoint a task force…

Hard to know whether to laugh and cry.

Given that IRCC is responsible for both immigration and citizenship backlogs, and has the policy and program responsibility for the passport program with Service Canada providing in-person service and processing, hard to see this as anything else but communications spin.

PCO could simply have weekly meetings at the DM or ADM level with IRCC and Service Canada to monitor and keep the pressure on. Happened during my time over 20 years ago at PCO on certain high profile issues and unlikely that this approach has changed drastically.

Cabinet task forces mean more time preparing for meetings and briefings and less time on the concrete operational changes needed to address backlogs.

The government ended its “deliverology” unit in PCO in 2020 but its focus was more on government priorities and commitments than existing programs (covered by departmental reports and TBS).

And as others have noted, perhaps a pause in policy initiatives and expanded immigration levels until the backlogs are sorted out:

Canadians deserve high-quality and efficient government services that are accessible, timely, and make their lives easier. The delays in immigration application and passport processing are unacceptable and the Government of Canada is urgently working to resolve them as soon as possible.

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today announced the creation of a new task force to improve government services, with a focus on reducing wait times for Canadians. The task force, a Committee of Cabinet ministers, will review service delivery, identify gaps and areas for improvement, and make recommendations to ensure Canadians from coast to coast to coast receive the highest quality of service.

As we recover from the pandemic and increasingly adjust to a fast-moving world where more Canadians are once again relying on government services, they have experienced delays in delivery that are far from acceptable. The task force will drive action to improve the processing of passports and immigration applications by identifying priority areas for action and outlining short- and longer-term solutions, with a focus on reducing wait times, clearing out backlogs, and improving the overall quality of services provided to Canadians. As labour shortages continue to lead to air travel delays around the world, the task force will also monitor the situation at Canadian airports.

The Government of Canada is working hard to improve the delivery of services that Canadians rely on every day.

Quote

“We know service delays, particularly in recent months, are unacceptable. We will continue to do everything we can to improve the delivery of these services in an efficient and timely manner, and this new task force will help guide the work of the government to better meet the changing needs of Canadians and continue to provide them with the high-quality services they need and deserve.”The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Quick Facts

  • The members of the task force on Services to Canadians are:
    • The Hon. Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (Co-Chair)
    • The Hon. Marc Miller, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations (Co-Chair)
    • The Hon. Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance
    • The Hon. Mona Fortier, President of the Treasury Board
    • The Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion
    • The Hon. Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development
    • The Hon. Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities
    • The Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue
    • The Hon. Mary Ng, Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development
    • The Hon. Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada
  • Ministers responsible for the relevant departments, including the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and the Minister of Transport, will be ex-officio members of the task force.
  • Other members of Cabinet may be invited to participate in task force meetings to provide advice and recommendations on issues related to their respective portfolios.

Source: https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/news-releases/2022/06/25/prime-minister-announces-new-task-force-improve-government-services