Opening Statement before the Government Operations and Estimates Standing Committee - 2015-2016 Main Estimates and Report on Plans and Priorities

April 28, 2015

Check against delivery.

Mr. Chair, thank you.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today to discuss our Main Estimates and our Report on Plans and Priorities for 2015-2016.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for promoting and safeguarding merit-based appointments that are free from political influence and, in collaboration with other stakeholders, for protecting the non-partisan nature of the public service. We report independently to Parliament on our mandate. We also administer programs on behalf of departments and agencies that recruit qualified Canadians from across the country. Under the delegated staffing system set out in the Public Service Employment Act, the PSC fulfills its mandate by providing policy guidance and expertise, conducting effective oversight, and delivering innovative staffing and assessment services.

Now, I would like to turn to our strategic priorities for this year.

Strategic Priorities

Our first priority is to provide independent oversight on the health of the staffing system and protect merit-based staffing and the non-partisan nature of the public service. The PSC oversees the staffing system through regular monitoring, and conducting audits and investigations, where needed. Based on these oversight and feedback mechanisms, we are able to assess the management of staffing and identify areas for improvement.

We will continue to provide policy guidance and advice, and work collaboratively with organizations to enhance our support to address not only issues detected through our oversight, but also to promote innovation in all aspects. We are adapting our approach to auditing small and micro-sized organizations, which have significantly fewer staffing activities. As for political impartiality, we will continue to engage with stakeholders on issues related to merit-based staffing and non-partisan public service.

The PSC has developed a number of tools available on our website to inform public servants of both their legal rights and their responsibilities related to political activities. For instance, we have an on-line tool to help public servants self-assess their own particular circumstances in order to make an informed decision about whether to engage in a political activity. We also launched a video to inform public servants of the process involved should they wish to become a candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election. Our latest staffing survey found that employees’ awareness continued to increase. 75% of respondents were aware of their rights and responsibilities with respect to political activities, up from 73% found in previous survey. We will continue to build on our outreach to sustain this progress.

Our second priority is to enhance our policy and oversight frameworks to ensure they are fully integrated, thus improving the staffing process across the public service. We have nearly 10 years of experience with full delegation of staffing authorities to deputy heads. Our staffing system is mature and works well.  Organizations now have in place strong internal capacities to monitor their own staffing processes. The operational realities and staffing needs of organizations have evolved.

As a result, we are currently reviewing our policies and associated guidance with a stronger focus on our role of providing expert advice and support to enable Deputy Heads to exercise their delegated authorities. As part of our focus on integration and modernization, we are also adapting our oversight mechanisms to a risk-based approach, while providing support through outreach activities and training sessions for organizations and stakeholders.

Our third priority is to offer support and expertise in staffing and assessment to delegated organizations and stakeholders. We are modernizing our processes, systems and tools in close collaboration with stakeholders, based on a single-window approach. We continue to modernize our services, to expand our use of technology and to make it more user-friendly.

Over the years, we have made significant progress in moving from paper and pencil to on-line testing. Approximately 70% of PSC’s tests are now administered online. This means reduced operational costs, better security features, faster scoring and quicker communications – results are available within 24 hours as compared to the previous 15 days.

For the post-secondary recruitment campaign, the use of paper and pencil exams was reduced by more than 90%  −  from over 33 000 exams in 2010-2011 down to 2,638 in 2014-2015. Operating costs were reduced by 29%  −  from $736,000 in 2010-2011 down to $523,000 in 2014-2015. We saw similar efficiencies in our Second Language Evaluation tests − more than 92% of them were administered on-line.

We also support departments with our on-line testing platform by hosting their standardized on-line tests. We currently host 14 standardized departmental tests on our platform. For fiscal year 2014-2015, we estimate that these tests will be administered to more than 20,000 candidates.

Other key innovations include Unsupervised Internet Tests which allow organizations to identify early in the hiring process, candidates who are more likely to succeed in subsequent supervised testing. This reduces costs and time to staff while increasing the quality of hires. We estimate that during fiscal year 2014-2015, Unsupervised Internet Tests were used in 35 recruitment processes. We believe that the use of Unsupervised Internet Testing for those processes reduced the cost of testing by $500,000 for hiring departments.

This type of testing has two other important advantages. First, it increases access to public service jobs by allowing applicants to take a test at a location of their choosing, no matter where they live. Second, it provides greater accessibility by removing testing barriers for persons with disabilities who can now use their own adaptive technology at home to do our exams. We will continue to look for ways to innovate, to improve user experience and expand access to opportunities in the public service.

Staffing and Recruitment Activities

Staffing and recruitment are an important part of the PSC’s role. Last year, we reported an increase in hiring and staffing activities for the first time in nearly four years. While student hiring was up by 8.6%, permanent hiring of new graduates was down. We are concerned that the proportion of employees under the age of 35 is also down. Those trends have implications for the renewal and future composition of the public service and we continue to look for the best mechanisms to attract and recruit graduates.

Our post-secondary recruitment campaign is one of the tools that we use to recruit graduates. Last fall, the PSC, in collaboration with departments and agencies, participated in 20 career fairs in all regions of Canada.

Veterans Hiring Act

This year, we are also focused on preparation and implementation of the Veterans Hiring Act, Bill C-27, which received Royal Assent on March 31st. We are continuing to prepare for the implementation of this legislation. Once it comes into force, this Act will change three mechanisms that support the hiring of veterans and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces into the federal public service.

We have been working very closely with our colleagues at Veterans Affairs and the Department of National Defence and we are ready to implement these changes. The drafting of the Regulations is close to completion.

Given our responsibility for administering priority entitlements, we want to make sure that the entitlements of the medically-released Canadian Armed Forces members are fully respected. We are considering additional initiatives to support veterans as well as current Canadian Armed Forces members in bringing their valuable experience and skills to the federal public service. The PSC is looking to hire some veterans to help Canadian Armed Forces members and other veterans navigate the public service staffing system. We're also working right now to finalize training modules, to help human resources advisors and hiring managers apply the new changes.

Main Estimates for PSC

Finally, I would like to speak to you about the financial situation of the PSC.

In our Main Estimates for 2015-16 the PSC is authorized to spend $83.6 million. In addition, 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 sufficient resources to deliver on our mandate and we will only spend what is needed.

For the PSC, the most serious risk would be not being able to fully respond in a timely manner to government-wide transformation initiatives and to realize efficiencies. However, we continue to closely monitor all possible scenarios in our planning.

Mr. Chair, we recognize that our responsibilities form but one of the many elements of the overall framework for people management in the public service. In order that the whole remains modern, effective and responsive, we continue to explore ways we can better perform our roles with respect to merit and non-partisanship.

We look forward to working with departments and agencies to achieve the priorities that we have set out. We will also continue to foster strong and collaborative relationships with Parliamentarians, bargaining agents, and other stakeholders so that Canadians will continue to benefit from a professional and non-partisan public service.

We would be pleased to respond to your questions.