Opening Remarks by Anne-Marie Robinson, President, Public Service Commission of Canada at the Senate National Finance Committee concerning the PSC 2011-12 Annual Report and Audit Reports

October 24, 2012

Listen to webcast (Parliament of Canada)

Thank you Mr. Chair.

I am pleased to be here to discuss the Public Service Commission’s 2011-2012 Audits and Annual Report which were tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The mandate of the Public Service Commission is to promote and safeguard merit-based appointments, and to protect the non-partisan nature of the public service.

We report to Parliament on our mandate, and we welcome the opportunity to discuss our activities and results with your Committee.

Under Main Estimates for 2012-2013, the PSC is authorized to spend $92.7 million and it has an authority to recover up to $14 million of the costs of our counseling and assessment products and services provided to federal organizations. We have the equivalent of 965 full-time positions.

The Main Estimates do not reflect the contribution that the PSC is making to Budget 2012. As a result, the PSC’s budget will be reduced by $8.9 million; this is a reduction of 10 % of the review base, and it will be implemented over a period of three fiscal years. Some 87 positions will be eliminated over the same period.

The PSC is committed to enabling departments and agencies in building a workforce to meet the current and future needs of the public service. The Public Service Employment Act sets out a staffing system based on values where deputy heads have greater responsibilities. The Commission fulfills its mandate by delegating staffing to deputy heads, providing policy guidance and expertise to support delegation, conducting effective oversight, and delivering innovative staffing and assessment services.

Oversight of staffing system

Mr. Chair, oversight of the staffing system is a priority for the Commission. Our monitoring, audits and investigations provide valuable information about the performance of staffing in organizations. This year we conducted a higher number of investigations (184) and organizational audits (12).

Our results in 2011-2012 show that the overall integrity of the staffing system is generally sound. Deputy heads and managers are respecting their delegated authorities and meeting their responsibilities; and overall performance has improved.

While overall progress is being made, some areas do require further attention. There were three areas in particular. First, we found that departments need more consistent monitoring of appointment processes. Effective monitoring of appointment processes allows organizations to determine areas for improvement and to detect and correct errors in a timely manner.

Second, there are still too many cases where organizations do not provide the necessary information to demonstrate that the appointment respects merit. In some instances, inadequate assessment tools were used. In other cases, organizations do not provide the PSC with key pieces of documentation, such as the assessment results for the person appointed.

The PSC will draw on audit results from the past several years in order to better communicate to HR advisors and managers on the proper documentation of merit as well as to update its tools and guides.

Third, departments need to ensure priority persons are considered to fill vacant positions and appointed, if qualified. Our audits have identified some inconsistencies in the application of priority entitlements, for instance, the use of more stringent statement of merit criteria for priority persons, or in other cases, a lack of evidence that priority persons are being considered.

We will continue to support and work with organizations to identify measures that can be taken to improve staffing performance, with a focus on learning and continuous improvement.

Mr. Chair, the Annual Report provided an update on the investigations at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. We were able to report that the investigations had been concluded.

However, at the time of the printing of the Annual Report, we were not in a position to publish a summary of our investigations, as we were still going through our disclosure process. Since then, we have published an online summary of the investigations on our Web site. One case is subject to a judicial process.

Ensuring a non-partisan public service and safeguarding impartiality

Safeguarding the political impartiality of the public service continues to be of critical importance. Our 2011 Survey of Staffing found that employee awareness continued to increase: 69% of respondents were aware of their rights and responsibilities to a moderate or great extent, up from 63% in the previous year. We will continue to collaborate with organizations and other stakeholders to find ways of improving the level of awareness among employees.

Hiring and staffing in the public service

Now, I would like to turn to hiring and staffing activities. This was an unusual year as departments and agencies were preparing for the possibility of budget reductions by managing their vacant positions very closely.

In 2011-2012, overall hiring to the public service declined by 10.3%. This includes indeterminate, specified term and casual hiring, as well as the hiring of students. This was the third consecutive year in which hiring decreased. Internal indeterminate staffing activities also decreased.

As overall hiring declined and the rate of departures remained stable, the Public Service Employment Act population decreased from 216 709 employees in March 2011, to 211 610 employees in March 2012 — a decrease of 2.4%. At the end of this fiscal year, almost 90% of the population were indeterminate employees. This is the highest proportion of indeterminate employees in the past 10 years.

The mobility rate, which represents the movement to and within the public service, reached its lowest point since the late 1990's. Promotions dropped the most with almost a 20% decrease relative to last year. Acting appointments also decreased by 11.9%.

Workforce adjustment

This brings me to workforce adjustment.

Mr. Chair, when I last appeared before this Committee, I spoke about the PSC’s two roles in enabling departments and agencies as they implement workforce adjustment.

Our first role is to provide policy guidance and support to departments in selecting employees for retention or lay–off; and our second role is to support persons that have a priority for appointment in the public service.

We have seen a steady increase in the number of priority persons during 2011-2012, rising by 13%, from 1,597 to 1,808. However, that number has increased by 52% to 2,744 as of October 18. Since April 1st, we have also seen a drop in the placement of priority persons. With surplus employees accounting for most of these appointments, the overall drop has been felt more significantly by priority persons with other types of entitlement, including former Canadian Forces members who have been medically released. We continue to monitor this situation closely and are working with our partner, Veterans Affairs, to develop solutions.

We expect the priority administration program will be the main source for staffing vacant positions over the next few years. As such, we continue to enhance its transparency and effectiveness, in collaboration with stakeholders. This strategy will help us ensure that as many skilled and experienced priority persons as possible can be placed quickly and efficiently.

Modernizing initiatives

I would like to now speak about our modernizing initiatives.

In 2011-2012, the PSC continued to invest in technology as part of the modernization of our services. We made a number of advances in our on-line testing services for candidates. We’ve also begun to develop an on-line open data source that would allow for the more timely release of staffing performance data to organizations. This tool would not change the way in which we report to Parliament, but it would allow organizations to respond to issues in real time.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, we will continue to support organizations as they implement workforce adjustment as a result of Budget 2012.

While the Priority Administration Program will be the main source for staffing positions in the public service over the next few years, it may not be able to meet all existing needs for what the Clerk of the Privy Council refers to as “key skills gaps” in his 2012 Report. The public service will need to continue to conduct targeted recruitment to ensure that the public service of the future constitutes a skilled workforce that can deliver results for Canadians.

We are committed to fostering strong and collaborative relationships with all stakeholders, including Parliamentarians, departments and agencies as well as bargaining agents, so that Canadians will continue to benefit from a professional and non-partisan public service.

Mr. Chair, I would be pleased to respond to your questions.