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.

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

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.