Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts
Reporting Performance to Parliament: Progress Too Slow
Managing Departments for Results and Managing Horizontal Issues for Results
16 October 2001
Assistant Auditor General
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss with you two chapters from our 2000 Report:
- Chapter 19, Reporting Performance to Parliament; and
- Chapter 20, Managing Departments for Results and Managing Horizontal Issues for Results.
I have with me today, Dr. John Mayne, the auditor responsible for these chapters.
These two chapters are related. Good performance information to Parliament ought to be based on the information used to manage programs within departments.
Since we audit on behalf of Parliament, providing good-quality information to Parliament is of utmost concern to us. Parliament needs fair and reliable information to fulfil its role of scrutinizing the government and holding it to account.
In both chapters, we followed up on similar work reported in 1997. We expected to see that good progress had been made. However, for both reporting to Parliament and managing for results, we were disappointed.
Reporting to Parliament: Chapter 19
In 1997 we identified a number of shortcomings in how information from departments was being reported to Parliament, including a lack of clear and concrete statements of what was expected and limited information on what was being accomplished. For the most part, these and other weaknesses are still evident in current reporting. Reporting has only modestly improved. Performance reports to Parliament should tell a clear and credible performance story.
The government has sought Parliament's concurrence for its Improved Reporting to Parliament project, but it remains a project that is not sanctioned by legislation. Since our 1997 audit, both Quebec and British Columbia have passed legislation requiring performance reporting to their legislatures and requiring departments to manage for results. In our view, the federal government should seriously consider introducing similar legislation to ensure that performance reporting is placed on a more stable footing. Passing such legislation in a very public manner would highlight the importance of good reporting.
Such legislation would be helpful, but other things are also required if improved reporting is to be realized. These include the following:
- The Treasury Board Secretariat needs to play a stronger oversight role in setting out clear reporting guidelines and challenging the information provided by departments.
- Enhanced challenge by parliamentary committees would also help to reinforce the importance Parliament places on performance information. It is essential that Parliament review Estimates documents to motivate departments to improve their reporting.
In its recent 8th Report, Mr. Chairman, your committee recommended that our Office do more audit work on the departmental performance reports. We agree that this too would encourage departments to work harder to improve the information they provide Parliament.
Since our 2000 chapter on reporting performance, the Treasury Board Secretariat has set out clearer reporting principles for this year's performance reports and provided a common lexicon of terms for departments to use. We will be monitoring the performance reports for this year and for future years and are hopeful we will be able to report significant progress.
Managing for Results: Chapter 20
Chapter 20 examined the extent to which departments are measuring what they have accomplished—their results—and are using that information to manage. Since 1995, the government has been emphasizing the importance of managing for results.
In our 1997 study, we identified several programs that had made good progress in managing for results. Last year, we found those programs continued these efforts. However, more generally in the five major departments we examined, progress was slow or stalled. Many departments were caught in a stage of perpetually planning to manage for results but never actually getting on with it.
While "results" are referred to in many government documents and pronouncements, we noted in Chapter 20 that the Treasury Board Secretariat had provided little concrete direction and practical guidance to departments on managing for results, and there was no co-ordinated effort in the Secretariat for moving departments ahead.
And, since 1995, the government's program evaluation expertise had been allowed to atrophy, just at a time when evaluation ought to have been a leading tool for measuring results.
We concluded in Chapter 20 that a major push by departments and the Treasury Board Secretariat would be required to move government to a management approach based on results and get beyond the rhetoric.
Chapter 20 also looked at the challenges faced when trying to manage a policy area that cuts across several departments—that is, a horizontal issue. We felt that this is an increasingly important management issue and one that is receiving more attention by government and parliamentarians.
In Chapter 20, we presented a framework for managing horizontal issues and discussed challenges. We will continue our work in this area.
Mr. Chairman, in our view, significant changes are needed if reporting to Parliament is to meet its potential. The Committee may wish to consider a number of questions:
- Is the government considering introducing legislation to put reporting to Parliament on a more stable footing?
- What is being done concretely to ensure departments provide a more balanced and forthright report on performance against expectations?
- What incentives have been put in place by the government to encourage good reporting, not just safe reporting, to Parliament?
- How will departments be encouraged to move past just planning to manage for results?
Thank you Mr. Chairman. We will be pleased to answer any of your questions.