Auditor General’s Opening Statement—2017 Fall Reports Press Conference

2017 Fall Reports of the Auditor General of Canada to the Parliament of Canada Auditor General’s Opening Statement

Good morning. I am here to present the findings of 6 performance audits and 2 special examinations tabled in the House of Commons this morning.

When I look at these audits together, I find that once again, I’m struck by the fact that departments don’t consider the results of their programs and services from the point of view of the citizens they serve. I find myself delivering this message audit after audit, and year after year because we still see that departments are focused on their own activities, and not on the citizen’s perspective. The audits we’ve delivered today are no exception, as you will see.

Let’s start with our audit of the Phoenix pay system. Here we looked at what Public Services and Procurement Canada and selected departments and agencies were doing to fix problems with the system, and eventually have a system that takes less effort to pay government employees, not more.

We found that a year and a half after the federal government launched the Phoenix pay system, over 150,000 public servants were still waiting for a pay request to be processed. The value of outstanding pay errors, including employees who were paid too little and those who were paid too much, was about half a billion dollars at the end of June 2017.

We found that Public Services and Procurement Canada has been largely reacting to problems since Phoenix was launched.

In our view, it will take years to fix the pay system, and it will cost much more than the $540 million the government has so far identified that it will spend. In a similar situation in Queensland, Australia, it took 7 years and $1.2 billion to fix most of the pay problems.

Next, I’ll turn to our audit of how the Canada Revenue Agency’s call centres handle inquiries from taxpayers.

Overall, we found that the customer service results that the Canada Revenue Agency reports makes its call centre service look better than it really is.

For example, the Agency says that 90% of callers are able to connect with either its self-service system or a call centre agent. While this is technically true, it only reflects part of the caller’s experience. The Canada Revenue Agency'sCRA’s reported rate does not reflect that on average, a taxpayer has to call about 4 times in a week just to get through to the Agency.

We found that the Agency’s numbers didn’t account for the 29 million calls it blocked in a year, more than half its total call volume. Those calls either get a busy signal, a message to visit the Agency’s website, or a message to call back later. Overall, we found that only 36% of calls were able to connect.

Based on our tests, and those done by others, we found that the Canada Revenue Agency gave taxpayers wrong answers to their questions almost 30% of the time. This rate is significantly higher than the roughly 6.5% error rate estimated by the Agency.

Let’s go now to an audit that looked at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s $257 million initiative to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.

Overall, we found that the settlement needs of more than 80% of Syrian refugees were assessed. However, the audit identified two main concerns.

First, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada delayed the transfer of $51 million to its service providers by at least 3 months, which caused some service reductions.

Second, the Department didn’t collect all the information it needed to monitor whether Syrian refugees were integrating into Canada. For example, it didn’t know what proportion of school-aged Syrian children were enrolled in school.

In another audit, we looked at Health Canada’s programs to help Inuit and First Nations people improve their oral health.

Overall, we found that Health Canada spends more than $200 million a year on medically necessary dental services for Inuit and First Nations people. Even though the Department knows that the oral health of Inuit and First Nations people is significantly worse than that of the rest of Canadians, it does not know how much of a difference its dental benefit program makes.

Health Canada does know that its $5 million Children’s Oral Health Initiative, which is focused on prevention, improved the oral health of some First Nations and Inuit children. However, the Department’s data shows that fewer children are now enrolled and fewer services are provided under the Initiative than in previous years. Health Canada does not know why this is the case, making it difficult to address the situation.

In our audit of Correctional Service Canada, we found that Correctional Service Canada'sCSC’s programs and services did not meet the rehabilitation needs of women offenders, especially those with mental illness.

The tool that CSC uses to assign women offenders to security levels and correctional programs was designed to assess men, not women. As a result, some women offenders were held at a higher security level than necessary, and were assigned to programs that CSC could not deliver before the majority of offenders were first eligible for parole.

A delayed release means that women offenders do not have a gradual re-entry into the community, and it also costs more to keep them in a correctional facility.

We found that Correctional Service Canada’s mental health teams were not fully staffed to provide the mental health services that women offenders needed. We also found that CSC placed in segregation cells women offenders who were at risk of harming themselves or suicide. It is not appropriate to keep women offenders with serious mental health issues in segregation cells, where they do not get the clinical support they need.

In another audit, we focused on whether the Royal Military College of Canada educates and trains Officer Cadets at a reasonable cost to take on leadership roles in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Royal Military College of Canada is a federally funded university. We found that the quality of the College’s academic programs is good, but it spends about twice as much per student as other universities. National Defence was unable to show how the military officers trained at the College were more effective in their jobs than those who came into the Canadian Armed Forces through other entry plans.

We also found that the Royal Military College of Canada did not provide Officer Cadets with adequate training in leadership and in the proper conduct expected of future officers. While the College took action when serious incidents of misconduct were reported, the number of incidents involving senior Officer Cadets showed that the College had not prepared them to serve as role models for their peers.

In our opinion, the academic environment at the College does not consistently support the teaching of military conduct and ethical behavior. The College must re-establish its focus as a military training institution so that it can produce the leaders the Canadian Armed Forces require.

Our fall reports to Parliament also include copies of the special examination reports which we delivered to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and the National Capital Commission since the release of our spring reports.

Overall, we found that Atomic Energy of Canada Limited had in place the systems and practices it needed to successfully implement its government-owned, contractor-operated business model. The Corporation now needs to turn its attention to measuring whether this new model is efficient and effective.

Our examination of the National Capital Commission found that more than one quarter of the National Capital Commission'sNCC’s assets, some of which are of historical value, were in fair, poor, or critical condition. The Commission’s resources as authorized in its approved corporate plan are not sufficient to restore and maintain these assets. The NCC has committed to finalizing an analysis of the resources it needs and develop options to address them.

I was hoping that today, I would be able to talk about something other than results for citizens. I keep delivering the same message that the government doesn’t understand its results from the citizen’s perspective.

It’s possible that our message of citizen-centric service delivery has been heard at the individual program level, however we see no signs of it being picked up government wide.

As we begin new audits, we find the same absence of focus on fully understanding what Canadians are getting from government programs, whether it’s answers to their tax questions, mental health support for women offenders, improved oral health for Inuit and First Nations, or the extent of the problems the government has to pay its employees.

It appears that our message is not being heard at a whole-of-government level, and that concerns me. Government is supposed to be about service to citizens. Getting there requires a concerted effort across government to understand and measure the citizen experience, not just one program at a time, but across all programs and services.

I am now ready to answer your questions.