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.

ssso_implementation_plan_-_scmb_dec_2005_-_v5_08dec2005_e_scmb

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

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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