2009 March Status Report of the Auditor General of Canada

Main Points

What we examined

Passport Canada is a special operating agency reporting to Parliament through the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It issues Canadian passports and other travel documents that are critical to travel across international borders.

Our February 2007 Status Report followed up on Passport Canada’s progress in implementing recommendations from our 2005 audit of the Agency. Our audit work for that report was completed well before the United States’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) came into effect in January 2007, requiring Canadians to carry a valid passport when crossing into the US by air. However, we did look at how Passport Canada was preparing for this initiative, and we noted that most local offices did not have a formal contingency plan in place to handle unexpected increases in the demand for passports.

In fact, in the 60 days between the formal US announcement of the initiative in November 2006 and the January 2007 effective date, Passport Canada was overwhelmed by passport applications—more than 505,700 applications in January 2007 alone, a 47 percent increase over the previous month and the equivalent of about 23,000 applications a day. As a result, there were significant delays in the processing of applications; waiting times at Passport Offices and the time it took for the call centre to answer phone calls also increased significantly. Following a hearing on the matter, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts issued a report that criticized the Agency’s planning for the surge in applications and asked for a plan detailing how Passport Canada would prepare for a second surge expected before June 2009, when the requirement for a passport will extend to Canadians entering the US by land and sea.

For this Status Report, we assessed whether Passport Canada has made satisfactory progress in implementing actions and developing contingency plans to prepare for any rise in the volume of passport applications leading up to 1 June 2009. We did not look at other areas covered in our 2007 Report; we had reported that the Agency’s progress in those areas was satisfactory.

Why it’s important

As the Public Accounts Committee’s report noted, Passport Canada’s inability to cope with the first surge in applications meant that Agency employees were overwhelmed and overworked; it also led to inconvenience and frustration for many Canadians, whose travel plans may have been delayed or cancelled. Passport Canada needs to be able to provide Canadians with passports according to its own service standards and be able to respond when demands increase, which is expected to occur as passports become a requirement for travellers entering the US by land and sea as of 1 June 2009.

What we found

  • Passport Canada has made satisfactory progress in implementing actions to correct the passport processing problems it encountered in 2007 and in developing contingency actions should demand exceed its current capacity, although improvements are still needed. It carried out two internal “lessons learned” exercises, through which it determined the causes of problems experienced with the surge in demand during 2007 and identified areas for improvement.
  • The Agency has taken substantial actions to increase its capacity by opening a new processing and printing plant in Gatineau, Quebec, for mail-in applications—the main source of backlogs during the first phase of WHTI; upgrading and expanding regional offices; and replacing aging printers at another printing centre, increasing its passport printing capacity there. It has also added 76 receiving agents to its existing network who review passport applications, considerably broadening access to passport services, especially in rural, remote, and northern locations.
  • Passport Canada took steps to streamline the processing of walk-in applications. For example, it defined critical steps, roles, and responsibilities, and altered the workflow to have applications screened for proper documentation and complete information before going to passport officers, allowing them to focus on their critical role in determining passport entitlement. The Agency has also undertaken a major communications campaign encouraging Canadians to apply for passports well before the US deadline. Its aim is to avoid a last-minute rush and also to spread the increased demand over a longer period. It also improved internal reporting to better monitor the number of applications processed centrally and in its 33 local offices across Canada.
  • The Agency has a broad contingency plan that includes several actions, the majority of which are aimed at increasing its operational capacity, should that become necessary. It has identified actions that will be triggered by changes such as excessive lineups or delays in standard turnaround times. At the time of our audit, however, detailed planning was still underway and, in our opinion, critical gaps remained. For example, the Agency had not determined to what extent each contingency action would increase its operational capacity. Nor had it determined at what level of demand (number of applications received) it should initiate the actions, especially those with longer lead times such as hiring additional personnel. In addition, the Agency had not specified who has the authority and the responsibility to initiate contingency actions.

The Agency has responded. The Agency agrees with all of our recommendations. Its detailed responses follow each recommendation throughout the Chapter.

Introduction

Background

5.1 Passport Canada was established in 1990 as a special operating agency that reports to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Its mandate is to issue travel documents, including Canadian passports that are needed for international travel. The familiar 24-page blue passport accounts for more than 98 percent of the documents the Agency issues.

5.2 As of 12 September 2008, Passport Canada had 2,781 full-time equivalent positions. It provides passport services at 33 local offices, mostly in major Canadian cities. As of 16 September 2008, Passport Canada was also providing passport services through receiving agents in 56 Canada Post outlets and 118 Service Canada centres, which serve rural and remote areas. Receiving agents receive passport applications, review them to ensure that the documents are in order, and forward them to Passport Canada for processing. Passport applications can be submitted in person to local offices or receiving agents; they may also be submitted to Passport Canada by mail or through members of Parliament. About 80 percent of all passport applications are submitted in person to local offices (a process known as “walk-ins”).

5.3 Passport Canada operates under a revolving fund and, in the 2007–08 fiscal year, collected more than $289 million in revenues. It uses a forecasting model to estimate the number of passport applications it expects to process, to establish budgets for upcoming fiscal years, and to predict production needs. In June 2007, Passport Canada received a one-time investment of $55 million from the Government of Canada. This funding was to develop the operational capacity Passport Canada needed to address both an expected increase in demand for passports and the backlog of passport applications created by the new entry requirements in the United States (see paragraphs 5.5 to 5.8).

5.4 Passport Canada is committed to delivering reliable, consistent, and accessible services to Canadians everywhere. To this end, it has established a number of non-binding operational service standards. For example, it expects to process walk-in applications within 10 days of receipt, and mail-in applications within 20 days. In meeting these standards, Passport Canada must cope with wide variations in the demand for passports from month to month. Peak demand occurs from November to March. As well, the overall demand for passports has steadily increased in recent years. The number of passports issued in the 2007–08 fiscal year was more than twice the number issued five years earlier (Exhibit 5.1).

Exhibit 5.1—There has been a significant increase in demand for passport services since 2001–02

Fiscal year Number of travel documents issued Percentage increase over previous year
2001–02 2,023,000 N/A
2002–03 2,279,000 12.7
2003–04 2,624,000 15.1
2004–05 2,756,000 5.0
2005–06 3,183,000 15.5
2006–07 3,669,000 15.3
2007–08 4,838,000 31.9

Numbers and percentages have been rounded.

Source: Passport Canada Central Index

Effects of new rules in the United States

5.5 In 2004, the US Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which required all travellers from western hemisphere countries, including Canadian and American citizens, to have a valid passport or approved travel document to enter the United States. Under this Act, in 2005, Congress announced the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which proposed rolling out new passport rules in two phases. Under WHTI phase I, Canadians arriving in the United States by air would require a valid passport or approved travel document as of 23 January 2007. Final confirmation of the phase I deadline was announced on 24 November 2006, leaving only 60 days for Passport Canada to prepare for the first deadline. Under WHTI phase II, travellers arriving by land or sea will require a valid passport as of 1 June 2009.

5.6 During implementation of WHTI phase I, Passport Canada received an unprecedented number of passport applications from Canadians requiring passports to meet the new rules. Much of this increase happened during the last three months of the 2006–07 fiscal year, the Agency’s traditional peak period. In January 2007 alone, Passport Canada received more than 505,700 applications, a 47 percent increase from the previous month and equal to about 23,000 passport applications per day. By May 2007, Passport Canada had a backlog of approximately 199,000 unprocessed applications at its mail-in processing centre.

5.7 This surge in passport applications overwhelmed Passport Canada. Its 2006–07 Annual Report stated that it was unable to meet the demand within its published service standards (Exhibit 5.2). Its offices, management, and staff were strained by the increased volume; they recorded more than 130,000 hours of overtime in March 2007 alone. As a result of this crisis, many Canadians encountered delays in receiving their passports. Lack of space to accommodate waiting clients created lineups snaking outside buildings and onto sidewalks. The situation was covered extensively in national and regional media and Passport Canada was heavily criticized. The Agency also received many complaints about its service delivery. At the end of this audit, Passport Canada reported that it was meeting its service standards.

Exhibit 5.2—During Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) phase I, Passport Canada did not meet its own service standards because of the surge in demand

Type of service Service standard Performance between December 2006 and March 2007
Walk-in applications 95 percent or more passports delivered within 10 days Only 37.6 percent of walk-in applications met the service standard
Mail-in applications 95 percent or more passports delivered within 20 days Only 16.7 percent of mail-in applications met the service standard
In-person client wait times 75 percent or more clients wait less than 45 minutes Only 45 percent of in-person clients were served within the service standard
Percentage of calls answered within five minutes 95 percent or more calls answered within five minutes Only 11 percent of calls were answered within the service standard
Source: Passport Canada Annual Report 2006–07

5.8 As of 1 September 2008, nearly 52 percent of Canadians held a passport (56 percent of adults and 38 percent of children), although there were significant variations from province to province. In its August 2008 update, Passport Canada forecast a demand for 4.7 million passport applications in the 2008–09 fiscal year and 6.1 million passport applications in the 2009–10 fiscal year. It expects another surge in demand as Canadians apply for passports to meet the WHTI phase II deadline of 1 June 2009, particularly in communities near the United States border and in urban areas like Montréal, Quebec, Moncton, and Halifax, where the proportion of residents holding a passport is currently below the national average.

What we found in 2005 and 2007

5.9 In our April 2005 Report, Chapter 3, we reported that Passport Canada was struggling to meet expectations for better security and increased demands for service. Our February 2007 Status Report, Chapter 5, assessed the progress Passport Canada had made toward addressing our recommendations and found it to be satisfactory. The focus of the two audits was primarily on matters related to security. While not the subject of a new recommendation, at the time of our 2007 audit, WHTI phase I was on the horizon and we noted our concern about Passport Canada’s ability to deal satisfactorily with surges in demand for passports.

Events since 2007

5.10 The WHTI phase I experience clearly indicated that phase II is a potential risk for Passport Canada. Parliamentarians were concerned about Passport Canada’s ability to meet service expectations and to cope with rising demand. As a result, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts (PACP) asked Passport Canada to present it with a plan by 30 September 2008 so it could be assured that the Agency is prepared to deal with the expected surge in passport applications stemming from the second phase of WHTI. PACP received a response from the government on 6 June 2008.

Focus of the audit

5.11 This audit did not follow up on security-related issues raised in our April 2005 Report since these were reported on in the February 2007 Status Report. In response to concerns raised by Canadians, the Auditor General, and the PACP, this follow-up audit assessed Passport Canada’s progress in implementing actions and developing contingency plans to address the anticipated surge in passport applications with WHTI phase II. We examined whether Passport Canada can demonstrate that it has

  • assessed the problems encountered during WHTI phase I,
  • identified adequate actions to address the increased demand for passports that will stem from WHTI phase II, and
  • put processes in place to monitor the implementation of those actions.

5.12 More details on the audit objective, scope, approach, and criteria are in the About the Audit at the end of this chapter.

Observations and Recommendations

5.13 At the time of our audit, Passport Canada was in transition from being reactive to proactive, turning its attention from crisis management to more carefully planning for future demand and public expectations.

Identifying corrective actions

Passport Canada has identified areas for improvement

5.14 We expected Passport Canada to have identified the factors that contributed to the crisis related to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative phase I, as described in paragraph 5.7. We found that Passport Canada started this process in early 2007. In October 2007, the Agency held two internal conferences with managers and staff from local offices, where it identified the following causes of the crisis and areas for improvement:

  • insufficient processing capacity and lack of physical space for walk-in applicants,
  • a need for better production processes for passport applications,
  • long lead times to hire new employees when the sudden increase in demand occurred,
  • an imprecise model for forecasting demand,
  • lack of communication with Canadians, and
  • lack of contingency plans.

Building operational capacity

The Agency upgraded and expanded physical operations and access

5.15 We expected Passport Canada to have planned and taken actions to address the anticipated surge in passport applications associated with the WHTI phase II deadline. We found that Passport Canada has increased its level of preparedness and addressed most of the difficulties experienced during the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative phase I. Passport Canada believes these actions will allow it to respond more quickly and effectively to the expected increases in passport applications.

5.16 One of the key contributing factors Passport Canada identified was insufficient capacity to handle the increased number of passport applications. In June 2007, the Agency sought and received a one-time capital investment of $55 million from the Government of Canada that would increase its operational capacity. At the time of our audit, it had spent about $31.5 million of this funding, mostly to build and equip a new mail-in processing and printing centre in Gatineau, Quebec, which opened in January 2008. With this new facility, Passport Canada aims to effectively manage the high volume of mail-in applications—a type of service that was particularly overwhelmed during WHTI phase I.

5.17 Passport Canada has also replaced printers at its Mississauga, Ontario, printing centre, thereby increasing that site’s printing capacity. Printers at the new Gatineau centre are expected to go through a similar upgrade in the 2008–09 fiscal year. As well, Passport Canada has upgraded and expanded many of its local offices.

5.18 From April 2007 to the end of our audit, Passport Canada had added 76 receiving agents to its existing network of receiving agents. This considerably broadens Canadians’ access to passport services, especially in border areas and rural, remote, and northern locations. Passport Canada believes that using receiving agents helps reduce pressure on local offices and mail-in operations.

Internal reporting and tracking have improved

5.19 When the WHTI phase I surge began, Passport Canada was limited in its ability to monitor the demand for passport applications and processing times at its local offices and its mail-in centre. This severely constrained its ability to react to shifting demand and to manage the distribution of work. In response to the initial challenges experienced in WHTI phase I, Passport Canada developed and refined its internal reporting system. This has allowed staff to closely monitor on a day-to-day basis various key operational indicators such as the number of passport applications processed at its mail-in centre in Gatineau and at its 33 local offices across Canada. Passport Canada expects that this will improve its ability to meet the service standards for passport delivery and to make the best use of its network by, for example, shifting passport applications from busy to less busy sites.

5.20 Passport Canada is implementing an electronic tracking system at the Gatineau mail-in centre. This system will track applications from the time they enter the facility to the time when a passport has been produced and is ready to be mailed. The Agency expects this new system to provide more accurate statistics on production times for passports.

The Agency has streamlined and modernized the process for issuing passports

5.21 Passport Canada has improved the process for issuing passports by streamlining several of the procedures it uses to process applications. Passport officers play a key role in processing passport applications. They examine and verify data, documents, and photos, and they correct data entries and interview applicants, as necessary. They make entitlement decisions based on the information they get from applicants, using the Agency’s policies and procedures. According to Passport Canada, when WHTI phase I occurred, passport officers in local offices were generally processing complete applications from start to finish, and they were performing non-critical tasks. Now, as needed, a higher degree of application screening happens before an application reaches them. This has allowed passport officers to focus on their critical role in passport entitlement. Passport Canada has also acted to prevent lineups in local offices by partially processing passport applications during busy periods of the day and completing them during less busy periods.

5.22 Passport Canada adopted a new and simplified process for the renewal of existing passports. If eligible, applicants who are renewing their passports can now submit a shorter and simpler application form, current photos, and their current passport. The Agency no longer requires proof of citizenship or certification by a guarantor. This simpler renewal process should allow Passport Canada to process more passport applications in the same time frame.

5.23 During WHTI phase I and until quite recently, Passport Canada used manual procedures to enter data from application forms. It is now in the process of introducing a new data entry system for applications, which should reduce the amount of time spent entering client data. Certain application forms available online now feature a barcode that contains fields for information (surname, first name, date of birth, place of birth, and so on). Applicants type information into a field that captures it and automatically creates a barcode. After printing the form, applicants submit it to Passport Canada (in person or by mail) and the information is scanned into a computer directly from the bar code.

Staffing levels have increased

5.24 In the 2007–08 fiscal year, Passport Canada added new employees, more than 700 after attrition, to cope with the growing demand for passports. It also completed a recruitment process that identified a pool of more than 1,000 candidates, of which about 270 would qualify to become passport officers. This type of “pool” recruitment allows Passport Canada to fill numerous positions rapidly while still respecting the 10-week period needed to train passport officers. It can reduce this training period if candidates are internally promoted.

The Agency is monitoring identified actions

5.25 We expected that Passport Canada would have a process in place to monitor actions it has taken to address the anticipated surge in passport applications. We found that Passport Canada is using various means to closely monitor how identified actions are being implemented. For example, it has periodically reported to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on projects funded by the $55-million investment aimed at increasing operational capacity. These reports have provided financial information on a project-by-project basis. At the time of this audit, the Agency had spent $31.5 million and was seeking the remaining $23.5 million from the Treasury Board. Passport Canada also indicated that it is monitoring the effect of changes made to its production processes so it can determine whether those changes have resulted in improvements.

Forecasting

The Agency has developed a new model for demand forecasting

5.26 Passport Canada forecasts future demand for passports so it can set its budget for the next fiscal year (balancing projected revenues and expenditures) and adjust its production capacity by hiring, redeploying, or laying-off casual and term staff. In April 2006, the Agency estimated that from the 2005–06 fiscal year to the 2006–07 fiscal year, demand would grow by approximately 6.6 percent. However, the Agency reported a 22 percent increase. Given these numbers, it significantly underestimated demand.

5.27 In February 2008, Passport Canada launched a new forecasting model. Although we did not audit the forecasting model, the Agency believes it will be more accurate because it is based on a mix of both observed prior trends and current data. Using this model, it produced new estimates of passport applications for the next five years (Exhibit 5.3).

Exhibit 5.3—Passport Canada produced new estimates of demand for passport services

Fiscal year
ended March 31
Number of passport applications expected
2008–09 4,730,226
2009–10 6,098,863
2010–11 4,675,959
2011–12 4,740,189
2012–13 4,989,881
Source: Passport Canada Demand Forecast

Communicating with Canadians

The Agency is informing Canadians of phase II in advance

5.28 Since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative phase I deadline was announced only 60 days before the effective date, Passport Canada and Canadians had limited time to react. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts criticized Passport Canada for failing to inform Canadians about its inability to meet published service standards. For these reasons, Passport Canada considers communication a key part of its current strategy.

5.29 Communications campaign. Passport Canada launched a major communications campaign in the summer 2008, developed in consultation with other federal agencies. The campaign encouraged Canadians to apply for passports well before the WHTI phase II deadline in order to avoid a last-minute rush and to even out demands on the Agency. It began with advertisements in about 80 daily and weekly newspapers and was followed with radio spots in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. The advertisements targeted people living in border areas where fewer Canadians have a passport. Finally, in early September 2008, more than 5.7 million notices were mailed to Canadians living within 150 kilometres of access roads that link Canada and the United States. Passport Canada planned to conduct an evaluation in late 2008 to determine how effective the campaign had been.

5.30 Passport clinics. Passport Canada has also improved its outreach activities. In 2007, it held 54 passport clinics where staff travelled to selected communities to provide people with information and to accept passport applications. In 2008, Passport Canada expected to hold clinics in 44 communities.

5.31 Revamped website. Passport Canada revamped and launched a new website in mid-December 2007. The new website is designed to reduce calls to call centres by posting key topics on the homepage and highlighting key initiatives such as the simpler renewal process. It also posts current processing times for passport applications. This allows Canadians to plan in advance—a measure that was not in place during WHTI phase I.

Planning for contingencies

Detailed contingency planning is still under development

5.32 Based on actions it has taken to increase operational capacity and efficiency and to better predict and moderate the demand for passports, Passport Canada believes it will be able to meet the demand it has forecast. However, the Agency does not have unlimited capacity and, despite its best planning efforts, there is a risk of an unexpected increase in passport applications. We therefore expected that it would have developed a contingency plan to provide Canadians with timely and reliable service and to avoid the problems that occurred during Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative phase I.

5.33 Passport Canada has developed a high-level contingency plan that includes a range of potential actions, the majority of which are aimed at increasing its operational capacity, should that become necessary. Each potential action has an associated “trigger.” For example, if lineups at local offices are too long, opening hours may be extended. Similarly, if the Agency has printing delays at its two major printing centres, it may send passports to other Passport Canada offices for printing (some local offices have printing capabilities). And, if its service standards are exceeded by a significant margin nationally, it may implement evening shifts and weekend overtime or hire new staff. Some of these actions would be triggered by physical monitoring of sites—for example, observing lineups; however, most would be triggered when established service standards are exceeded by 5, 10, 15, or 25 days. The Agency can implement some of these actions on relatively short notice, while it will require longer lead times for others such as hiring and training new employees.

5.34 At the time of our audit, detailed planning and communications for most of these actions were still underway. In our opinion, critical gaps must be filled. First, Passport Canada had not yet determined by how much each individual action would increase its overall operational capacity. This information is necessary to enable the Agency to more precisely match actions to increase capacity with increases in demand. Second, many of the contingency actions will be triggered after service standards have been exceeded. Passport Canada had not yet determined what level of demand (number of applications received) would trigger these actions before a problem occurs, particularly those that have longer lead times, such as hiring more staff. Third, Passport Canada had not yet specified who precisely has the authority and responsibility for launching such actions.

5.35 Without this information, Passport Canada cannot be sure that it will be able to respond in time and with the right corrective action to unexpected increases in demand. Unless sound planning is in place, we are concerned that the effectiveness of some of Passport Canada’s contingency actions could be undermined, and that its ability to communicate realistic expectations to Canadians could be compromised.

5.36 Recommendation. Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by determining how much each contingency action would increase its operational capacity.

The Agency’s response. Agreed.

Passport Canada agrees to complete its ongoing contingency planning through the development of rolling action plans that will be updated on a regular basis. This contingency planning will result in capacity increases in four areas: intake, processing, printing, and communication.

Passport Canada will also measure capacity gains for each contingency action through the development of various scenarios, which will account for fluctuations in the number and type of applications it receives. Should these actions be implemented, Passport Canada will closely monitor and accordingly adjust its action plans to reflect the impact of measures taken and evolving passport demand.

Deadline: End of the 2008–09 fiscal year.

5.37 Recommendation. Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by better understanding what volume of applications would trigger the need to take certain actions, especially those that have longer lead times, such as hiring more staff.

The Agency’s response. Agreed.

Passport Canada will complete its ongoing contingency planning by identifying the triggers to each contingency action. The Agency will conduct a review of the triggers, the environment, and the situation at the local, regional, and national levels on a regular basis. Triggers include, but are not limited to, longer wait times and lineups at local offices, processing times beyond what is published, printing delays, and the public’s inability to access our information centres in a reasonable time.

As of November 2008, staffing is above the required level to handle the current forecasted volume. With respect to lead times for hiring, Passport Canada has a hiring pool of 1,000 candidates and the ability to hire through agencies and to train for various positions within a two-week time frame. Passport Canada has in place a continuous hiring process through an arrangement with the Public Service Commission of Canada.

Deadline: End of December 2008 / Ongoing

5.38 Recommendation. Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by identifying roles, responsibilities, and authorities for launching contingency actions.

The Agency’s response. Agreed.

Passport Canada will put in place a tactical response team that will ensure adequate monitoring and reporting of the volumes throughout all service channels and that will be in a position to make timely and valuable recommendations to the higher management team.

The Agency has identified authorities for launching contingency actions. The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for launching most of the contingency actions, while some other minor actions will be launched locally. Passport Canada is also ready to seek the authority of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to implement exceptional specific measures should the situation warrant it.

Deadline: End of December 2008

Conclusion

5.39 Overall, Passport Canada has demonstrated satisfactory progress in implementing actions and developing contingency plans to better prepare itself for the increase in passport applications (Exhibit 5.4).

Exhibit 5.4—Progress on preparing for Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) phase II

Issue Progress

The Auditor General and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts have expressed concerns about Passport Canada’s readiness to deal satisfactorily with a sudden and significant rise in the number of passport applicants in response to the WHTI. (2007 Status Report of the Auditor General, Chapter 5, paragraphs 5.63 and 5.64; and the Ninth Report of the Standing Committee on the Public Accounts.)

We assessed whether Passport Canada has demonstrated that it has implemented actions and developed contingency plans in preparation for the expected rise in demand for passport applications leading up to 1 June 2009.

Satisfactory

Satisfactory—Progress is satisfactory, given the significance and complexity of the issue, and the time that has elapsed since the issue was raised.

Unsatisfactory—Progress is unsatisfactory, given the significance and complexity of the issue, and the time that has elapsed since the issue was raised.

5.40 We found that Passport Canada has developed an extensive response to increase its level of preparedness, mainly by opening a new processing and printing centre for mail-in applications in Gatineau, Quebec, and by launching a major communications campaign that encourages Canadians to apply for passports well before the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative phase II deadline. Passport Canada has also streamlined its processes to improve workflow and improved its internal reporting, which should allow for better distribution of workload among local offices.

5.41 The Agency’s high-level contingency plan includes actions that will be triggered by events such as long lineups or delays in standard turnaround times. At the time of our audit, detailed planning and communication for most of these actions were still under way. In our opinion, critical gaps must be filled. Passport Canada had not yet quantified the additional capacity that could result from these contingency actions. Nor had it yet identified what volume of applications would trigger the need to deploy certain actions. Finally, it had not yet specified who precisely has the authority and the responsibility to launch such actions.

About the Audit

Objective

This follow-up audit assessed whether Passport Canada has made satisfactory progress in implementing actions and developing contingency plans in preparation for the expected rise in passport applications leading up to 1 June 2009.

Scope and approach

We examined the analysis that Passport Canada performed after its experience in managing the unprecedented increase in passport applications that occurred during implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) phase I. The audit also looked at the actions that Passport Canada identified and implemented to address the next anticipated surge in passport applications during WHTI phase II. The audit did not include security, eligibility, or other matters addressed in the April 2005 Report or the February 2007 Status Report.

We interviewed management and staff at the Agency’s headquarters and reviewed documents to obtain information on actions taken to address the next anticipated surge in passport applications.

Criteria

Listed below are the criteria that were used for this audit and their sources.

Criteria Sources
We expected Passport Canada to be able to demonstrate that it assessed the key factors of the challenges it experienced in relation to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) phase I deadline of 23 January 2007 for air travel. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Integrated Risk Management Framework (2001), Element 3—Practising Integrated Risk Management—A Common Risk Management Process—Identifying Issues, Setting Context (step 1)
We expected Passport Canada to be able to demonstrate that it identified adequate actions to address the anticipated surge in passport applications due to the WHTI phase II deadline of 1 June 2009 for land and sea travel. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Integrated Risk Management Framework (2001), Element 3—Practising Integrated Risk Management—A Common Risk Management Process—Selecting a Strategy (step 7)
We expected Passport Canada to be able to demonstrate that it has implemented planned actions and has processes in place to monitor their implementation. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Integrated Risk Management Framework (2001), Element 3—Practising Integrated Risk Management—A Common Risk Management Process—Implementing the Strategy and Monitoring, Evaluating and Adjusting (steps 8 and 9)

Audit work completed

Audit work for this report was substantially completed on 19 September 2008.

Audit team

Assistant Auditor General: Wendy Loschiuk
Principal: John Reed
Director: Patrick Polan

Mathieu Tremblay

For information, please contact Communications at 613-995-3708 or 1-888-761-5953 (toll-free).

Appendix—List of recommendations

The following is a list of recommendations found in Chapter 5. The number in front of the recommendation indicates the paragraph where it appears in the chapter. The numbers in parentheses indicate the paragraphs where the topic is discussed.

Recommendation Response
Planning for contingencies

5.36 Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by determining how much each contingency action would increase its operational capacity. (5.32–5.35)

Agreed.

Passport Canada agrees to complete its ongoing contingency planning through the development of rolling action plans that will be updated on a regular basis. This contingency planning will result in capacity increases in four areas: intake, processing, printing, and communication.

Passport Canada will also measure capacity gains for each contingency action through the development of various scenarios, which will account for fluctuations in the number and type of applications it receives. Should these actions be implemented, Passport Canada will closely monitor and accordingly adjust its action plans to reflect the impact of measures taken and evolving passport demand.

Deadline: End of the 2008–09 fiscal year.

5.37 Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by better understanding what volume of applications would trigger the need to take certain actions, especially those that have longer lead times, such as hiring more staff. (5.32–5.35)

Agreed.

Passport Canada will complete its ongoing contingency planning by identifying the triggers to each contingency action. The Agency will conduct a review of the triggers, the environment, and the situation at the local, regional, and national levels on a regular basis. Triggers include, but are not limited to, longer wait times and lineups at local offices, processing times beyond what is published, printing delays, and the public’s inability to access our information centres in a reasonable time.

As of November 2008, staffing is above the required level to handle the current forecasted volume. With respect to lead times for hiring, Passport Canada has a hiring pool of 1,000 candidates and the ability to hire through agencies and to train for various positions within a two-week time frame. Passport Canada has in place a continuous hiring process through an arrangement with the Public Service Commission of Canada.

Deadline: End of the 2008 / Ongoing

5.38 Passport Canada should complete its ongoing contingency planning by identifying roles, responsibilities, and authorities for launching contingency actions.
(5.32–5.35)

Agreed.

Passport Canada will put in place a tactical response team that will ensure adequate monitoring and reporting of the volumes throughout all service channels and that will be in a position to make timely and valuable recommendations to the higher management team.

The Agency has identified authorities for launching contingency actions. The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for launching most of the contingency actions, while some other minor actions will be launched locally. Passport Canada is also ready to seek the authority of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to implement exceptional specific measures should the situation warrant it.

Deadline: End of December 2008

 


Definitions:

Special operating agency—An agency within a government department that has greater management flexibility in return for certain levels of performance and results. (Return)

Revolving fund—A fund provided for a particular purpose that is periodically replenished by transfers from other funds or, as in this case, by user fees. (Return)

Process for issuing passports—A process that involves seven steps: pre-screening, data entry, entitlement, data verification, production, quality control, and release. (Return)

 

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