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Management improvement in the Canadian public service, 1999-2010.

Canada rates highly on surveys of international comparisons of management capability. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators ranked Canada first in government effectiveness (World Bank Group 2010), while its policy capability tied for second place with the United States in a review of other benchmarking studies (KPMG 2009). Surveys of Canadian citizens indicate that, in the past decade, federal government service quality ratings went from 64 to 72 (Institute for Citizen-Centred Service 2008). In her last status report to Parliament, the former auditor general stated that there had been significant improvement in management over ten years, particularly financiai management (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2011b: 3-4). Data from Treasury Board Secretariat's Management Accountability Framework process also suggest similar progress (Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat 2008a; Lindquist 2009; Wouters 2010: 44). Nevertheless, it is has never been hard to find sceptics on the progress of management improvement (Savoie 2003: 278; Malloy 2004; Clark and Swain 2005; Good and Lindquist 2010: 117; Hubbard and Paquet 2010: 379; Lahey 2011). Cited obstacles to improving management include the human resource management regime; the accountability framework; the use of idealized management frameworks; and the lack of congruence between political and management priorities. While information on the progress of management improvement is incomplete and subject to methodological limitations (Howard 2010; Lindquist 2010), there is cause to believe that improved management performance has occurred and that Canadian performance may be relatively strong.

This article surveys management improvement in the public service during the 2000s. Part one defines what constitutes management improvement and provides the context for previous efforts in government. Part two surveys eight areas of management improvement during the 2000s, reviewing the initiatives and evidence of progress, and showing that the pace of improvement has not been equal in all sectors. Part three offers observations and speculation on the reasons for the relative success or failure of certain changes and examines the contribution of political, organizational, economic and cultural influences. Part four concludes by arguing that maintaining momentum for management improvement is difficult. While the public service has shown itself capable of constructive change and institutional learning, a variety of circumstances, variables and interactions are necessary for sustained progress and must not be underestimated. Still, elements of the way forward are clear, including cohesive public service leadership and appropriate political support.

Management improvement: definition and brief history

Good management is the effective use of resources to achieve meaningful results. It involves processes such as planning against declared strategic objectives, implementing, controlling, and measuring and reporting results. Effective management pays attention to people, processes and technology, as well as the management of risk. Good management should also provide clarity on roles and responsibilities in addition to mechanisms for reporting results and enforcing accountability.

The management initiatives of the past decade were principally led by the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) and were built on the reforms of the previous twenty years (Johnson 1971; Veilleux and Savoie 1988; Kernaghan 1991; Clark 1994; Potter 2000; Kelly and Lindquist 2003; Kelly 2003; Lindquist, Clark and Mitchell 2004; Lindquist 2006a, 2006b; Heintzman 2007). TBS serves a variety of roles in its support to Treasury Board. First, it acts as the government's "budget office" by examining and approving the proposed spending plans of government departments and agencies. Second, TBS acts as "employer," responsible for collective bargaining, compensation, and those human resource management policies not delegated to deputy heads. Third, and the focus of this article, TBS plays a "management board" role in promoting improved management performance and developing policies and priorities to support the prudent and effective management of government assets.

While beyond the scope of this article to review the complete history of management improvement, it is worth recalling the historical tension between centralized decision making and oversight, and "letting the managers manage." During the late 1970s and early 1980s, TBS attempted to exert greater control over departments following a 1976 auditor general report, which stated that the government had lost control of spending. The government created the Office of the Comptroller General to develop financial and reporting standards and to promote improved management practices (Kelly and Lindquist 2003: 88). In 1986, the government shifted its emphasis, introducing a new management approach to government, which focused on giving individual ministers and departmental managers more latitude and direct responsibility for resources. Additional authority was granted to departments based on individual departmental commitments and negotiated by means of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) (Veilleux and Savoie 1988: 535; Aucoin 2002: 43). Four years later, a white paper on renewal of the public service, Public Service 2000, was published. It elaborated a vision of a new public service culture that was results based, client oriented and founded upon the precepts of service innovation, people and accountability. Important elements of the PS2000 were the delegation of decision making to the lowest reasonable levels, more emphasis on public service values, a continuous learning culture, anda focus on accountability for results (Kernaghan 1991: 556; Malloy 2004).

By the mid 1990s, the legitimacy of PS2000 philosophies and approaches had been corroded by a steady stream of budget reductions, mergers and wage restraint (Clark 1994: 277). Moreover, the commitment of the government and senior public service leaders to PS2000 values regarding human resource management was thrown into doubt by the scale and pace of the 1993 reorganization (Clark 1994: 229). Budget restraint continued for the duration of the decade as a result of the Program Review exercise and its aftermath. Between 1993 and 1996, programs were cut by $16.9 billion; 45,000 jobs were eliminated between 1995 and 1998 (Foley 2008: 284). These changes ensured that references to the language and approaches of PS2000 disappeared from public service discourse.

During the late 1990s, the government launched several new initiatives including Modern Comptrollership and Results for Canada. In addition, the government designated Treasury Board as the government management board. Although Treasury Board had exercised the management board role since its creation (Johnson 1971; Kelly and Lindquist 2003: 88), this role had been more recently eclipsed by its budget office role. However, developments during the 1990s gave greater prominence to the new/old management board role (Lindquist, Clark and Mitchell 2004: 328), which took most of a decade to develop and effectively implement.

Key management improvements in the 2000s: a survey

This section surveys improvements in the following core management processes of government: management accountability; expenditure management; financial management; human resource management; grants and contributions; project management and capital investment; internal audit; and values and ethics. For each area, the nature of the management challenge is provided, the evolution of the initiative outlined, and the extent of success assessed.

Management improvement is assessed in terms of both its content and implementation. With respect to content, the following questions were asked: Was the policy designed so that accountabilities were clear? Could performance be measured? Was it risk adjusted? Did it pay attention to people, processes and, where necessary, technology? With respect to implementation, the following issues were considered: Was the policy's intent realized in practice? Did the actions of managers and staff reflect the behavioural expectations of the policy? Was there resistance to or acceptance of the policy among those responsible for its implementation?

The main lines of evidence used were extensive documentation available on government websites, views of independent third parties, presence of measureable results, interviews with former colleagues, and the author's own experience as part of TBS senior management. Third-party sources are cited, including reports from the auditor general, academic journal articles, the work of independent consultants, and the views of the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service.

Management accountability: a clear success

Deputy ministers have many roles and responsibilities, including advising ministers and providing policy advice. They also have huge management responsibilities (Bourgault 2010). What mechanism exists to allow the central agencies and departments to carry out a dialogue on the discharge of management responsibilities? In 2003, the TBS created a tool and set of processes to lay out its expectations of senior managers for good public service management (Lindquist 2009). This tool, called the Management Accountability Framework (MAF), is principally for deputy ministers and heads of agencies. The MAF attempts to provide a well-defined tool that could be employed consistently across departments and is based on measurable evidence. There were earlier attempts to address the issue of departmental management performance: in 1991, TBS initiated the Shared Management Agenda (SMA), which was a bilateral process requiring the Treasury Board secretary and each deputy to set out priority management issues of mutual concern. Another process called the Departmental Management Assessment required TBS officials to review departmental management effectiveness (Clark 1994: 222).

In the MAF, Treasury Board's expectations are defined by ten elements of good management, including public service values, governance and strategic direction, people, citizen-focused service, learning, innovation and change management, and risk management. Each department's performance in these areas is assessed annually; these assessments are a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures and indicators backed up by objective criteria and factual lines of evidence. This assessment is used as one input for determining the performance pay of deputy ministers by the Clerk of the Privy Council, and these assessments often inform the management improvement agenda for the following year. Deputy ministers now pay significant attention to improving the rankings of their departments. There is dialogue between the department and TBS officials about the rankings, but ultimately the ranking is a TBS decision. Perhaps more important than this somewhat mechanistic ranking is the annual, day-long collective discussion of the results among deputy ministers, led by the clerk and the secretary of the Treasury Board.

In the early days there was a great deal of scepticism over the validity and usefulness of the tool. For example, an influential former deputy and former clerk described it as "utopian" and "surreal" (Clark and Swain 2005). The TBS, however, made continual changes to the process and the measures in response to concerns from the departments. Further developments in legislation and management policy reinforced the usefulness of the MAF over time, such as the adoption of the Federal Accountability Act in December 2006. This Act clarified the answerability of deputy ministers and reinforced that deputy heads were responsible for the management of their departments (Gilmore 2010: 77; Molot 2010). (1) In addition, new Treasury Board policies on capital investment and project management (2007) described the deputy ministers as being accountable for managing investment planning and project management. The 2008 strategic review of the human resources function reinforced deputy ministerial accountability for managing people.

After five years of applying the MAF, an independent evaluation was commissioned (Canada, TBS 2008a). The report recognized that MAF had evolved into a structured and rigorous assessment mechanism. It noted that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recognized MAF as one of the most sophisticated tools in the world for assessing organization performance (OECD 2005: 86). Lindquist (2009) also assessed the framework positively. In response to the recommendations of the independent evaluation, changes to the MAF process included adopting a more risk-based approach that considers risks, previous assessments, and the size of departments (Canada, TBS 2008b). Adjustments were also made in the evidence to be submitted. After nine years, MAF has become the key instrument for deputy ministers' accountability for departmental management. It provides an essential overview of the management of the public service to ministers, central agencies, and indeed the whole community of deputy ministers. It also identifies priority areas for management excellence, not just at the departmental level, but from a whole-of-government perspective.

Expenditure management: a relative success

In the government context, expenditure management refers to those processes which address the source of funds for program and other expenditures, and the mechanisms for the allocation of these funds to departments (Good 2007). During the mid-1990s, the role of TBS in expenditure management diminished (Kelly 2000; Kelly 2003; Lindquist, Clark and Mitchell 2004). However, two initiatives restored the TBS' influence: the establishment of a framework for organizing information on government programs, and the Strategic Review Initiative.

Historically, TBS has developed and modified several frameworks for presenting and reviewing departmental expenditures. It began with the Glassco Commission's recommendation that program objectives and outputs be considered in resource-allocation decisions. By the late 1980s, departments were presenting annual and future year spending on the basis of self-developed operational plan frameworks (OPFs). The OPF detailed programs, objectives, internal management structures, resources, outputs and results (Veilleux and Savoie 1988: 524).

During the major downsizing of the 1990s, the government found that TBS and the Department of Finance did not have sufficient information on the effectiveness and impacts of programs to evaluate downsizing proposals from departments (Lindquist 2009: 4). One response was the Management, Resources and Results Structure Policy (2005, hereafter MRRS), subsequently renewed in February 2010 with little substantive change. Each department requires an MRRS: a well-defined, comprehensive inventory of activities, resources, results, performance measurement, and governance information. Activities and results are depicted in logical relationship to each other and to strategic outcomes. This information is retained in a centralized database managed by TBS. The MRRS and the database are used to analyze individual spending proposals (Lindquist 2006b: 188). Enhanced automation of the database, which also occurred at this time, improved the efficiency of the process for putting together the estimates. This had significant implications for managing cross-department or horizontal initiatives. For example, all spending on the environment or Aboriginal affairs or the north could be considered and displayed for ministers and Parliament, as well as being used for reviews of program expenditures. These tools reinforced and supported changes to governance processes, such as horizontal management (Lindquist 2012).

The second innovation was the development and implementation of strategic reviews. These reviews were implemented as part of a new expenditure management system announced in 2007. The new strategic review process was a clear attempt to improve on the ad hoc approach to expenditure management that had been a feature of the beginning of the decade and earlier (Lindquist 2006b). This policy required that all program expenditures of government be reviewed on a four-year cycle, such that, in any one year, twenty-five per cent of program spending was reviewed. For departments identified for strategic review, their budgets were automatically cut by five per cent of program expenditures. However, a portion could be returned to the department if ministers were persuaded by a sufficient business case. Strategic reviews asked fundamental questions about the programs: Are they efficient and effective? Are they still required? Do they align with government priorities? To assist ministers in assessing the impact of the cuts, independent experts were required to analyze and comment on review proposals. The first four-year cycle of strategic reviews yielded $8.5 billion in savings over seven years, with $1.8 billion ongoing or $11 billion in savings over seven years with $2.5 billion in ongoing savings including Department of National Defence expenditures (Canada, Department of Finance 2011). The strategic review process had identified opportunities to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, and to focus on core roles.

Three factors were critical in making the strategic review process successful. First, the political will existed to accept the fall-out that comes from cutting any program, even ones that objectively were not successful. Second, progress was made in accounting for and measuring the performance and results of many government programs, which built on the MRRS framework (Lindquist, Clark and Mitchell 2004: 340). Third, TBS leveraged its increased analytic capacity to challenge and support departmental analyses. Some commentators have, however, taken a more critical view of the strategic review process (Good and Lindquist 2010: 112).

Good expenditure management requires an understanding of the link between financial inputs and results. All governments struggle with this. The last decade has seen substantive improvements in how program data on results are gathered, maintained and used. These innovations have altered how TBS has performed its budget office role and this has helped it to regain lost influence.

Financial management: significant progress achieved

Strengthening financial management in departments has been a continuous focus since the 1990s, albeit with different approaches and philosophies. However, the Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSD) grants and contribution scandal (Good 2003), and the weaknesses revealed by internal audit reports of Public Works and Government Services leading to the sponsorship program scandal brought this issue into public prominence in the early 2000s. Historically, emphasis has tended to shift between the broader contribution of financial management to effective program management and a narrower focus on internal control and reporting. Changes have often been precipitated by auditor general reports and Parliamentary scrutiny (Veilleux and Savoie 1988; Clark 1994).

Financial management improvements in the late 1990s began with an expanded definition of modern comptrollership, which included initiatives for integrated performance information, sound risk management, rigorous stewardship, appropriate controls, and shared values and ethics (Dupuis 2006; Graham 2010: 496). Modern comptrollership was considered to be the responsibility of both line management and financial specialists; it was part of an overall vision of public service management embodied in the initiative, Results for Canadians (Canada, TBS 2000). This initiative laid the groundwork for the Management Accountability Framework and integrated risk management but, while containing many useful ideas, did not focus exclusively on financial management.

In 2003, the government refocused attention on internal control and the role of the comptroller general as a partial response to the HRSD and sponsorship scandals. It recreated the position of comptroller general (previously, the responsibilities of Secretary of the Treasury Board and Comptroller General of Canada rested with one individual) to provide a focus on financial management and internal audit. Initiatives were aimed at strengthening the financial management community; enhancing emphasis on internal control, reporting and auditing; and renewing the function of the chief financial officer (CFO). As part of these reforms, CFOs were required to sign off on all memoranda to Cabinet. But the stronger role for the CFOs envisioned by the comptroller general was challenged because some CFOs did not have the organizational capability, tools or technology to fulfill those duties. In addition, some deputy ministers did not see the value of an expanded role for a CFO in the governance of their departments (Good 2007: 207).

The past decade has seen improvement in financial management despite shifting emphases

In 2007, a major internal review was undertaken based on the Office of the Auditor General's report, Financial Management Capability Model (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 1999). This review led to a more balanced view of the financial management function, which better matched expectations with the organizational capabilities of departments. One outcome of a strengthened role for CFOs was that a healthy tension between the program manager and corporate finance was created, which had the merit of forcing greater transparency of program costing and providing better information to deputies and their ministers.

The past decade has seen improvement in financial management despite shifting emphases (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2011b). There are better policies with more clearly defined roles, responsibilities and expectations. The Government of Canada is the only G8 nation that consistently produces unqualified, consolidated, audited financial statements and is a recognized world leader in financial reporting. Nonetheless important challenges remain. Increased expectations have resulted in challenges for all departments, particularly in upgrading their financial systems to meet the enhanced requirements for reporting and control. Significant reinvestment is needed to ensure that process and policy improvements are supported by well-functioning financial systems. In addition, more investment is needed for training and recruiting financial executives and leaders with the necessary expertise.

Human resource management: challenges remain

Successful human resource management is critical to an effective public service. This function encompasses staffing, performance management, labour management relations, leadership, learning and training. It also relies on a cadre of human resource professionals with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

In sharp contrast to the optimistic commitments to improved human resource management set out by PS2000 in 1990, the program review reductions in budget and staff from 1995 to 1997 traumatized human resource management. The PS2000 initiative viewed people in the public service as its chief asset and committed to strengthening career opportunities and planning (Kernaghan 1991: 556). However, the momentum and credibility of PS2000 was damaged by comprehensive budget reductions and fiscal restraint (Clark 1994; Caiden, Halley and Maltais 1995).

Thus, by the late 1990s, in-depth reform was required. The auditor general commented on the need for comprehensive reform in the 1997, 2000 and 2001 reports (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 1997, 2000, 2001). Staffing, recourse mechanisms and a "fractured responsibility" for human resource management were among the problems identified. In the late 1990s, the Clerk of the Privy Council identified another dimension to the issue: a "quiet crisis". This was an impending shortage of executive talent and the need for "La Releve," or measures to develop a new cadre of managers to replace retiring ones (Malloy 2004). In his final report to Parliament, the former auditor general, Denis Desautels, commented in February 2001 that real advances in human resource management would require both systemic and legislative changes, in addition to changed attitudes, practices and organizational culture (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2003).

Although the government first signalled its intention to introduce comprehensive reform in 2001, legislation was introduced in 2003 but key sections only came into force in 2005. The omnibus Public Service Modernization Act (2003) amended existing Acts or introduced new legislation governing human resource management. The four major public service reforms addressed labour relations; staffing and the appointment process; learning and development; and the transfer of certain human resource management accountabilities to deputy heads.

A key thrust of the changes to the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) was to permit new processes that allowed managers to use more discretion in the appointment process, while remaining consistent with core public service values. In theory, this provided an opportunity to avoid mechanistic staffing processes and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of staffing. New structures and processes for staffing recourse followed. The Appeals Board was replaced with the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, which changed the criteria for staffing complaints.

For the first years of the implementation of the Act, the Public Service Human Resources Management Services Agency (PSHRMAC) was established and accomplished much productive work. Eventually the agency's size and scope of its activities was deemed excessive and no longer necessary. Consequently, in 2009, as part of a strategic review exercise, the PSHRMAC was folded back into TBS, and a new Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer was created with significantly reduced resources and a refocused mandate. Part of the rationale for these machinery changes was the need to reinforce the responsibility of deputy ministers for people management.

The role of the Public Service Commission was also modified by the legislation, with increased emphasis on monitoring and oversight. For example in fiscal year 2008-09, spending on oversight activities represented twenty-two per cent of its total budget compared with fourteen per cent in previous years (Canada, Public Service Commission 2009: 2).

A major internal government review recently concluded that while the Act was technically successfully implemented, important gaps remain (Cartwright 2011). Although the reforms have been helpful, there continues to be widespread dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of staffing processes (Cartwright 2011: 134), and managers continue to be frustrated (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2010a: 2.36-2.38). For many staffing actions, the discretion offered by the new PSEA has not led to more effective and timely staffing. There are, however, exceptions and staffing processes do sometimes perform as expected. Relationships among managers and human resource professionals are still strained. Roles and responsibilities among the Public Service Commission, deputy heads and the Public Service Staffing Tribunal need to be ironed out. On a more positive side, deputy ministers innovated with recruitment, particularly from postsecondary institutions, and more attention is paid to talent and performance management (Glenn 2012). The increasing priority of people management was recognized by new regimes for performance management and employee discipline. Consistent with more contemporary models of governance, the new approaches were developed by committees of deputy ministers, who worked collectively to identify government-wide standards.

People management competencies now receive higher priority, at least in spirit, when assessing managers' performance. One agency provides a special bonus for managers who excel at human resource management. There is also increased oversight and attention by the clerk, who publishes a human resource action plan, which commits departments and deputy heads to focus on particular people management priorities. For example, the clerk's 2010 human resource action plan focused on integrating program plans with human resource planning. The report also focused on recruitment, employee development and workplace renewal (Wouters 2010). Regular progress reports are also provided (Wouters 2011). The Prime Minister's Advisory Committee summed up the situation as it exists today:

We believe that further legislative and machinery changes are neither necessary nor desirable for continued progress in people management. Rather public service leaders and managers must continue to develop the institutional culture to support effective people management (Tellier and Emerson 2011: 3).

Despite some areas of success in human resource management, there is a consensus from both inside and outside government that many challenges remain (Cartwright 2011; Glenn 2012). While the legislative reforms were successfully enacted and administrative practices changed, many of the anticipated improvements in processes and culture were not achieved.

Grants and contributions: reasonable balance eventually achieved

Grants and contributions are an important means for achieving government objectives by levering the skills and resources of external parties. However, grants and contribution programs must be designed and managed to provide value for the money, in addition to being fair and accessible; striving to meet all three requirements has produced a decadelong process of largely successful reform.

In January 2000, the Internal Audit Branch of Human Resources Development Canada released its review of the department's grants and contribution programs, suggesting that the controls were ineffective and that inappropriate payments had been made. Significant political controversy in Parliament and the media ensued (Good 2003). The core finding, based on reviews of a non-random number of paper files, was that the documentation supporting the agreement approval process and payments was absent in several cases. However, the risk to taxpayers was overstated and misleading. Detailed file reviews of over 17,000 individual grants and contributions found that $250,000 in overpayments had been made, most of which was subsequently recovered (Sutherland 2001: 7). This controversy foreshadowed the key question in the management of grants and contributions: how much oversight and documentation are required to demonstrate value for money, stewardship and accountability, without excess red tape and cost?

The reaction inside the department and across government was to increase requirements for documentation, adjust controls, and increase audits. By 2006, the auditor general stated that the reforms were satisfactory; departments had adapted "risk based approaches to monitoring the funding activities of grants and contributions, and prepared clear documentation on the assessment of applications" (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2006a: 6-2). However, there were numerous complaints from recipients of the grants and contributions regarding the heavy financial and administrative burden associated with reporting. Indeed, many inefficiencies and duplications existed; it was not unusual for binders of information to accompany each application and release of payment. The balance between excessive control and documentation was not right.

The new Harper government sought to achieve a better balance. In June 2006, it appointed an Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution programs. The panel called for a major overhaul of the policy framework. It recommended the following changes: an articulation of principles to guide policy; a single view of client perspective; streamlined application processes; better coordination among departments for reporting, application, audit and review processes; improved design of programs to encourage multiyear funding' and improvements to reporting and accountability processes. The panel also recommended better training of managers and more widespread use of best practices for grants and contributions management. Overall, the recommendations sought to encourage more efficiency while ensuring accountability (Lankin and Clark 2006).

The government's response was positive. Then Treasury Board President Vic Toews stated: "time and money are being wasted administering rules and processes that add little to results and nothing to accountability. Our action plan would ensure getting back to first principles" (Canada, TBS 2007a: 2). A new grants and contributions policy was approved in October 2008, after much internal dialogue within the public service, and with ministers, over tolerance for risk. The crux of the issue was to what extent were ministers prepared to permit administrative streamlining while letting go of certain administrative controls and thereby increasing, to some extent, risk? The new policy was phased in as existing grants and contributions programs expired and as new terms and conditions were developed and approved. The new policy was a significant improvement and yielded the expected results.

Perhaps the best example of the change is demonstrated in the auditor general's report on the Economic Action Plan. According to the former auditor general, the $47 billion Economic Action Plan was well managed and struck the right balance between control and streamlined administration: Departments and central agencies took steps to speed up the design, review and approval of programs ... ; internal audit groups adjusted audit plans to focus on high-risk areas ... ; applicants were required to provide signed attestations demonstrating that their projects met the terms and conditions of the program ... (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2010b).

Not all grants and contribution programs have received such a favourable review, however. The auditor general's June 2011 report found that the public service was not involved in the planning and application process for the key infrastructure program for the G8/G20 summits, nor for the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2011a: chapters 2-3). This suggests that, while political oversight has been beneficial, there are times when it detracts from effective management of grants and contributions.

Overall, the public service has implemented effective management change built on improved processes instituted earlier in the decade. Yet there was innovation where necessary, to reduce the timelines for project approvals (Good and Lindquist, forthcoming), illustrating that it is possible to find a balance between excessive risk aversion and innovation. An important contributing factor was the reconceptualising of TBS' role beyond its more usual control orientation. TBS, at the urging of its secretary, began to fulfill the "facilitator" and "trusted advisor" roles within the management board concept.

Project management and capital investment: a work in progress?

Major capital investment and project implementation of large information technology (IT)-based projects are challenging for public and private sector organizations alike. IT projects truly test management abilities, since they typically combine technological change as well as business and cultural change, while striving for operational efficiencies.

A mid-2000s audit by the auditor general found that only limited progress had been made in this area since 1997 (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2006b: Chapter 3). The major problems were inadequate analysis of underlying business issues; inconsistent support from senior management; lack of experienced resources on project teams; unrealistic time frames; inadequate user involvement; and lack of effective monitoring.

In 2007, the government introduced a risk-based approach to managing IT projects and capital investment (Canada, TBS 2007b). One innovation was aligning Treasury Board oversight with the assessed level of project risk and organizational capacity. Ministers received better information on the ability of organizations to manage projects, their past record, and project-specific risks. They were given tools to effectively set their risk tolerance in dialogue with government officials. The new policy clarified the accountability of deputy ministers for leading projects in an integrated, enterprise-wide manner, which ensured strong linkages and governance between program and project management. The policy also shifted the focus from specific transactions to the planning stage of projects, where risk mitigation can be most effective.

The policy on the management of projects and subsequent implementation has resulted in significant improvement in the oversight of IT projects. However, it is too early to determine if the new policies will lead to better outcomes. Several obstacles remain in the management of IT, including the institutional immaturity of information and technology management and the limited involvement of ministers (Brown 2010: 235). Interviews with practitioners confirm a lack of senior project managers with the competencies and expertise to manage complex projects successfully. There is no organized program for developing senior project managers combining training and practical experience and a recognized career path. Too often, there is a failure to appreciate the skill sets required for project management. According to some participants, support from senior management is lacking, and there is excessive risk aversion. It is difficult to establish the appropriate degree of risk tolerance for a project among program management and staff groups inside departments and with central agencies. Outsourcing critical functions in business systems design has had a mixed record of success. Moreover, the process of moving from the earlier two-step project approval processes to a project risk-and complexity-based system required that significant cultural change occur; the transition path was not clear to some departments.

The auditor general concluded that central monitoring of large IT projects had recently been enhanced, that TBS' review mechanisms contributed to the success of large IT projects with improved policy guidance, and that satisfactory progress had been made on analyses of organizational capacity. Although the auditor general found that TBS' actions satisfactorily responded to concerns, it still rated the progress on several large multi-year IT-based projects as unsatisfactory (Canada, Office of the Auditor General 2011b: Chapter 2).

The Prime Minister's Advisory Committee, established to provide the prime minister with advice on public service management, sums up a widely held view:

A decade ago, Canada's Public Service was recognized internationally as a leader on the digital front with its government on line initiative. For a variety of reasons, it is now falling behind in the use of new technologies and in adopting whole of government approaches to its work (Tellier and Emerson 2011: 3).

As the reforms are relatively recent and capital investment programs have long lead times, it is too early to make a definitive assessment of the success of the policies, but independent observers and interviews with practitioners suggest that challenges remain.

Internal audit: largely successful

Internal audit provides deputy heads with objective, evidence-based assessments of organizational governance, risk management, and control processes, which are now designed and working. Identifying management risks and weaknesses before major problems arise can be an effective management tool. The internal audit function has had a long history in the public service; many internal audit groups have existed since the 1970s. However, during the 1990s program review reduced the size of internal audit programs, and many internal departmental audit groups suffered from a lack of resources and leadership. The initial reforms began in 2005, and although originally vigorously opposed by deputy ministers, they are now well accepted (Larson and Zussman 2010; Shepherd 2011).

Internal audit reforms were part of a far-reaching reform of financial management. These reforms had three elements: 1) there was an enhancement of the standards and certification of the internal audit community; 2) more professionally qualified auditors were recruited; and 3) most controversially, internal audit committees were chaired and staffed by professionals from outside the department, usually from the private sector. The mandate of the audit committees was conventional: to oversee the risk-based audits of departmental operations.

The deputy ministers were highly sceptical of this proposal to staff internal audit committees with outsiders to the department, drawn from lists proposed by the Office of the Comptroller General and approved by Treasury Board ministers. Deputies were concerned that the head of the committee could separately brief the minister, but this part of the proposal was subsequently dropped. The committees are now in the seventh year of implementation, and have the full support of the deputy minister community.

Deputy ministers came to realize that having well-respected outsiders review and assess departmental risks could be useful in focusing the attention of departmental management on overlooked risks, or provide comfort that risks are well managed. The skills profile of those recruited has evolved somewhat and now includes individuals with a better knowledge of public sector management. In one case, the internal audit committee drew attention to the lack of horizontal coordination on certain risks crossing organizational boundaries. Another asked if a values and ethics risk assessment had ever been performed; the deputy minister responded by having an assessment carried out. The internal audit committee functions in some respects as an external advisory board, and deputy ministers have come to rely on them. In terms of the content of the policy, outside reviews, and its acceptance, management improvement in this area has been successful.

Values and ethics: progress, but more remains to be done

Values form the basis or reference points for action and decision making. Public servants have always had a strong sense of values and ethics, often expressed in hallway discussions or coffee shops after meetings, but not in the business meeting itself. Values were often considered private or personal. The intention of the policy was to make the discussion of values a part of the normal strategic or tactical decision-making process so that employee behaviours would more fully reflect public service values.

An excellent overview of the history of values and ethics discourse in the public service can be found in A Special Calling: Values, Ethics and Professional Public Service (Kernaghan 2007). It traces the origin of the demand for a clear statement of public service values to the d'Avignon Special Committee on Personnel Management and the Merit Principle (1979). During the 1980s, a deputy minister-level committee on governing values suggested that values and ethics was the centrepiece of the PS2000 report (Canada, Privy Council Office 1990: 13).

Recent Canadian federal public service discourse on values and ethics has built on this groundwork. The 1996 Tait report, which articulated four interconnected groups of public service values: democratic, service, people and ethical (Task Force on Public Service Values and Ethics 1996), led to a new Treasury Board approved policy in 2003, Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service, and the appointment of a senior officer in each department to encourage ethical awareness and discourse. It provided conflict-of-interest guidelines, which included requiring individual confidential reports on potential conflicts for all personnel. A policy on whistle-blowing was developed to provide definitions and a process to enable public servants to disclose instances of wrongdoing. Although generally well received, many public servants questioned why the Code and policy were necessary, and whether it would have any meaningful impact. Some academics questioned the multiplicity of values enunciated (Langford 2004). Ralph Heintzman provided an articulate defence of the Task Force approach to public service values, also arguing that it was necessary to pay attention to the organizational, professional and institutional conditions for sound individual behaviour (Heintzman 2007).

In 2006, a new government carne to power with a mandate to restore trust in government. It strengthened the whistle-blowing provisions and the protection from reprisal provisions; it also called for the public-service wide code of conduct to be extended to more agencies and Crown corporations. The new Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector came into force on 2 April 2012. Although the values are similar, the Code now sets out expected behaviours. Ina review of the reforms, Langford and Tupper (2006) have suggested that values and ethics can be viewed as a government program. Kernaghan discusses the interplay of constitutional conventions and the evolution of the public service value framework (Kernaghan 2010).

Values and ethics initiatives have changed the culture of the public service. The awareness of a conflict of interest and the number of confidential reports submitted has increased. In many departments there is healthy internal dialogue on topics never previously discussed. Three examples illustrate this new reality. (2) First, an assistant deputy minister, also the senior financial officer of the department, was uncomfortable with the meaning attached to her signature on the costing for some formal policy proposals, given the limited time for review and limited scope for change. This conflict led to a healthy dialogue with her deputy minister and the Office of the Comptroller General about the gap between her professional standards and what she was being asked to do. It was treated as a normal discussion about how to proceed, and a paper was produced to share the discussion with the community. Second, the staff of a department with major responsibilities for grants and contributions to the business community became more at ease in saying "no" when receiving pressure to work outside the rules, because the staff had the support of senior management. Third, the culture of bullying within the public service is being addressed. Historically, the Canadian public service has tended to tolerate bullying behaviours when seeking to achieve results. Increasingly, it is the subject of discussion in management committee meetings or other fora and is now recognized as a serious issue.

Public servants are more aware of public service values; they are able to recognize value conflicts and usually make better decisions in a more supportive environment. Staff are now more ready to question whether a given approach is consistent with the Code. Although the policy on disclosure of wrongdoing has not had the dramatic impact that some of its advocates wished for, it has empowered staff to come forward in instances of perceived wrongdoing. Managers and staff are conscious of avenues and redress procedures that ensure activities contrary to public service values will be addressed. Nonetheless, the implementation of the policy is not complete. One persistent problem is the inconsistency in senior management attention. Moreover, professional values can conflict with democratic values, and this discussion is not always well handled. Not all public servants have a full understanding of the policy or are prepared to act. While much has been achieved, there is a lot of work that remains.


The management reforms and improvements in the Canadian public service have been significant, broad in scope, and addressed over many years, with a material outlay and investment in financial resources and management time. Table 1 summarizes these findings. While the public service has had a reasonably strong track record of instituting effective management improvement in the period reviewed, a relatively short time has elapsed since the policies surveyed were first introduced, and comprehensive or formal reviews have not been undertaken. Moreover, it is difficult to drive and sustain reform in any large organization, let alone one that is buffeted by the coming and going of governments. This is always a work in progress.

What accounts for this progress in management improvement? The initiatives required persistence and continuous improvement; that is, a willingness to review and adapt by adjusting frameworks and guidelines, reviewing processes, and finding efficiencies (Lindquist 2009). Many reforms--grants and contributions as well as financial management - went through several iterations before getting the balance correct. Many areas encountered significant resistance and scepticism until concerns were addressed. Not all areas of management improvement were equally successful. Less progress was made in human resource management, values and ethics, and managing capital projects. Moreover, implementing new management processes and controls was costly.

Although improvements were influenced by international trends and concepts in New Public Management, these changes showcased principles of good management adapted to the realities of modern public administration. Improvements were developed, revised and implemented by public service leadership at all levels of the organization. As Peter Aucoin describes, management improvements of this era were a mix of mostly traditional public service concepts, modified by concepts of delegated management authority and the values of efficiency and effectiveness drawn from the management literature (Aucoin 2008: 24). Although outside consultants made important contributions on specific issues, sustained improvement came from inside the public service. The importance of public service leadership in leading reform is consistent with the views of other observers (Aucoin 2002; Lindquist 2006a). The next section will consider additional factors that could explain the successes and failures of these management improvements.

Political factors

Two pronounced trends in the relationship between the public service and the political world can be observed. Over the last two decades, with the rise of "new public governance," management improvements have taken place amidst an increased concentration of power under the prime minister and political staff (Aucoin 2008: 24-25). Increased political decision making could undermine the effective management of resources, but the priority given to the prime minister's initiatives could lead to innovative processes as in some of the new management practices used to implement the Economic Action Plan (Good and Lindquist, forthcoming).

A second trend, with mixed impact, has been the decline of administrative space. As Donald Savoie (2003) and others have noted, policy advice and operations are shared with a range of outside experts, consultants and other interest groups. Public servants no longer monopolize the provision of policy advice or the oversight of government programs (Savoie 2010: 164). This article has noted the increased roles and influence of internal audit committees and the Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on the Public Service. Yet the opening up of public administration through more extensive use of outside advisors and experts does not explain the management changes noted in this article.

While the management reforms were not initially driven by the political level, political developments and trends still had an influence, usually supporting and providing the space for the public service to develop and implement improvements in management. In only two areas was legislation required: the Public Service Modernization Act and the Federal Accountability Act. Throughout the 2000s, the public service was in a continuous dialogue with ministers on management issues. This period should also be contrasted with the 1990s, when fiscal restraint, arbitrary expenditure reductions, and other factors combined to draw attention away from management policy (Clark 1994: 230).

Between 2003 and 2011, a great deal of senior official and ministerial time and energy were spent on redesigning management policy. Treasury Board ministers and the government expended the resources necessary to design and implement changes. The 2004 election led to a minority Liberal government under Prime Minister Paul Martin. The new leader had campaigned on the need for further measures to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy and the accountability of the government. He was sympathetic to management improvement, since it paralleled the parliamentary reforms he espoused. The new code of values and ethics, changes to the expenditure management system, and the internal audit policies all found support at the political level. In early speeches to public service executives, Martin talked about restoring the reputation of the public service to an earlier "golden age." He re-set the responsibilities of the Office of the Comptroller General and created the Public Services Human Resources Management Agency to manage human resources (Lindquist 2004).

The Harper government, elected in 2006, had campaigned on the need to restore trust in the public service. Its first major legislation was the Federal Accountability Act. It had far-reaching effects, including the creation of the Parliamentary Budget Office, as well as other Parliamentary officers, the requirement for a Code of Conduct, additional protection for whistle-blowing, and provision of greater clarity on the accountability of deputy ministers. It reinforced the internal audit policy of the previous government with its requirement for independent members of internal audit committees. Other measures, such as the Management Accountability Framework with its explicit rating of deputy ministers' management, found favour with new ministers who distrusted the public service and were looking for accountability mechanisms. Some senior government advisors now believe that these reforms may have gone too far (Tellier and Emerson 2011: 4). Although new political contexts created opportunities for reform, the precariousness of minority governments during most of the 2000s created an extremely risk-averse environment. This affected the design and implementation of some policies, which were more risk averse than some of their proponents had hoped.

Organizational and cultural factors

Organizational factors such as leadership skills, competencies and the demographic profile help to explain relative successes and failures. The high priority attached to management improvement by leadership was critical, particularly given the major loss of public confidence in the public service in the early 2000s following several scandals. Most public service leaders, despite recognizing the broader political context of these events, were disappointed not only in how a few public servants betrayed the system, but also by ineffective management processes and systems. In Canada, there is cadre of executives who think of themselves as responsible for the vitality of the broader institution (Lindquist 2011: 74). However, rather than projecting a defensive attitude, they showed an openness to change and widespread interest in learning from the experience and reforms of other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Canadian officials studied reforms in values and ethics, whistle-blowing, and joined-up government experiments in the U.K. and elsewhere; and in Australia, the decentralization of human resource management to deputy heads and the reduction of management policy direction from the centre.

The demographic profile may have contributed to this consensus. Most executives had lived through the downsizing of the 1990s; this shared experience may have resulted in increased cohesiveness and a co-operative spirit, as collaboration was actively encouraged (Lindquist 2006a). Throughout the 2000s, deputy ministers served on a wide variety of committees chaired by the Privy Council Office on policy and management issues. One clerk organized meetings out of Ottawa where deputies and key stakeholders could discuss policy issues, sometimes far removed from the agendas of their departments. On many occasions, deputies were asked to share best practices and communicate them to colleagues. This collaboration encouraged a whole-of-government perspective, (3) and led to a common view of priorities, a vocabulary to describe them and, most importantly, collective management of the issues (Lindquist 2012).

Organizational factors also explain some failures. Leadership attention was not equal in all management areas. The MAF reforms, internal audit, expenditure management, and financial management received more attention from TBS than other areas (and, of course, attention varied across departments). While focused TBS attention may have contributed to greater success, it is not a complete explanation. In some cases, such as the management of technology projects and human resources, reforms were less successful due to inexperience and insufficient competencies. In other areas like human resource management, values and ethics, and grants and contributions, a lack of clarity over the end-state or vision inhibited reform. Reforms of relatively smaller scope or more limited objectives were easier to achieve.

A full treatment of public service culture is beyond the scope of this article. However, two matters deserve comment. First, the public service today is still highly risk averse; innovation is an uphill struggle. Specific innovations often require lengthy and time-consuming internal business cases and analyses, and discussion with ministers. The Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, stated that the objective is "a public service that is risk aware but not risk averse" (Crookall 2010). Although trust is necessary to counterbalance risk aversion, its absence is not the only factor accounting for risk aversion. The increasing transparency of government operations, extensive oversight bodies, an aggressive press, and hostile Parliamentary committees are also contributing factors (Good 2007). In addition, public servants are keenly aware of the potential consequences of unfavourable publicity, which can undermine ministers or the government, and of traditional public service values, such as prudence with respect to the expenditure of public money, which inhibit risk taking.

The public service also lacks effective decision-making processes for reconciling the conflicting views of risk from across the public service when tackling major program management decisions. When conflicting views are not reconciled, the process fails; innovation and change are stymied, as the group with the lowest tolerance for risk can block any proposal. Management policy and effective management processes are attempts to manage risk. However, ministers and Parliament have generally had more faith in centralized control; in contrast, line managers typically believe that the costs of centralized control (reduced efficiency) outweigh the benefits. During the 2000s, the emphasis was on adjusting management policy by focusing central agency oversight on high-risk situations, which involved challenging the prevailing culture of the public service.

A second cultural factor is the lower importance attached to management and operational functions in comparison to policy advice and ministerial support roles (Savoie 2003: 132-33, 164, citing Arthur Kroeger on this point). The intensity of public service activity in response to government priorities results in less attention to management issues. Moreover, there is a tendency to underestimate execution risk and believe that, once the right policy is chosen, implementation is a simple process, liberating attention for other areas. Effective management decision making also requires a willingness to hold people accountable, but this remains a challenge in a big public service, where accountability is diffuse and performance difficult to measure. Weaknesses that persist in human resource management or management of major technology projects may be related, in part, to the lower priority given to required competencies and skills for effective management.

Economic and budgetary factors

The economic situation clearly supported sustained emphasis on management effectiveness and improvement, with favourable direct and indirect impacts. For example, until Budget 2009, the Canadian government had twelve years of budgetary surpluses; federal government debt, as a percentage of the GDP, was on a declining path approaching twenty-five per cent. The indirect impact of this economic environment was significant, as reviews of public expenditure, such as the strategic review process, could take place in a considered and coordinated manner--with appropriate data collection, some reinvestment, and assessment of political consequences. Ministers did not have to resort to the arbitrary budgetary decision making that was a feature of the 1990s. There was sufficient time for ministers and executives to consider management issues. The direct impact was also significant: the advantageous budget situation meant that new resources could be found for financial management, internal audit and human resource management. The capacity of these groups, which had been reduced by the severe cutbacks in the mid-1990s, was restored in some measure.

This article supports the conclusions of most commentators that public service reform at the federal level has been driven by public service leadership with support from the political level, and is most successful under those circumstances. The relative success of management improvement achieved by the end of the 2000s was the result of persistence and incremental adjustments. The fiscal environment was a contributing factor. The TBS management board role was realigned to embrace a more positive facilitation role. Shared values, cohesion and collaboration across the public service were also important. Nonetheless, cultural factors such as risk aversion and the lack of a results orientation weighed against improved practices.

Sustaining management improvement

A favourable economic environment, with top-down support for management improvement from the political level and a bottom-up willingness to address weakness, created a supportive climate for innovation and improvement during the 2000s. Clark hypothesized that management reform can only succeed if aligned with the policy and fiscal agenda of the government (Clark 2001: 1). The 2000s was one such period.

The next decade promises to be significantly different. The energy and focus by ministers and senior managers on management policy and its implementation may ebb away. Economic conditions have changed, and budget cutting will predominate. The expansion of department overhead activities to respond to new TBS policies may be curtailed or retrenched. A majority government promises to ensure that longstanding policy priorities will be tackled, which will be the focus of public service executives. Many long-service public servants who lived through the 1990s program review and subsequent economic expansion will leave; as new leaders emerge, there may be less cohesion and shared experience. The average age of the public service is declining, and more recent recruits have different expectations and skills. Sustained financial contraction may have negative effects on management practices. The new public governance and decline in administrative space for the traditional bureaucracy may lead to different results from those of previous decades (Savoie 2003). To the extent that management improvement, a combination of organizational learning and engagement, has always been an outcome of a complex variety and intersection of factors, including alignment with government priorities, maintaining momentum will be difficult.

Nonetheless, many commentators are optimistic. Jocelyne Bourgon has provided a new framework and vision for the public service. She suggests the future of public organizations is taking in information, ideas, energy and resources, transforming them, and releasing them back into society (Bourgon 2011: 17). Lindquist rightly points out that public administrators now have a wider array of tools, practices, ideas and frameworks to achieve results. There is more opportunity and knowledge than ever to choose the right practice for the right context (Lindquist 2011). The findings in this article also point the way forward. A cohesive public service leadership that is focused on results, but also risk aware and values based, along with appropriate political support are required to maintain the momentum of management improvement in the federal public service.


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(1) The Federal Accountability Act (2006) amended section 16.4 of the Financial Administration Act, Revised Statutes of Canada. For an interpretation of how the Federal Accountability Act clarified and changed the role of deputy heads, see Canada, Privy Council Office (2007); see also Gilmore (2010) for a different and more critical view.

(2) This paragraph is based on interviews with former or current public servants and personal experience.

(3) One deputy was asked to conduct a cross-government inquiry into the best practices for diversity management and official languages (Collette 2009). Several things are interesting about this example. Diversity management and official languages might have been perceived as an HR issue to be led by specialists in human resources - instead it was a line manager. Moreover, the deputy was from a top performing department as identified by the MAF assessment process.

The author is an independent consultant and former assistant secretary, Pension & Benefits Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat, Ottawa, Ontario. This article is based in part on a speech given at the Australian Institute of Company Directors' Public Sector Conference (Canberra, October 2010). He would like to thank former colleagues and associates who commented on versions of this article or agreed to be interviewed. He would also like to thank Meredith Burns-Simpson, the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript, and the editors. Responsibility for any errors and interpretations is the author's alone.
Table 1. Management Improvements from 2000 to 2010: Summary of
Reforms and Assessments

Management improvement Description

Management accountability Introduction of the management
 accountability framework, 2003
 and subsequent revisions

Expenditure management Introduction of MRRS and
 strategic reviews

Financial management 2003 refocusing of modern
 comptrollership towards more
 traditional elements and
 subsequent rebalancing

Human resource Public Service Modernization Act
management and related Treasury Board

Grants and contributions 2002 tightening of documentation
 and controls, and adoption of
 more risk-based approach in 2005

Project management and Adoption in 2007 of new
capital investment risk-based approach
Internal audit 2004 reforms and subsequent

Values and ethics 2003 policies and legislative

Management improvement Assessment

Management accountability Clear success

Expenditure management Relative success

Financial management Significant progress

Human resource Challenges remain

Grants and contributions Reasonable balance
 eventually achieved

Project management and Work in progress?
capital investment
Internal audit Largely successful

Values and ethics Progress made but more
 work remains to be done

Management improvement References

Management accountability OECD 2005; PWC and Interis
 2008; Lindquist 2009

Expenditure management Lindquist 2012; Canada,
 Department of Finance 2011

Financial management Good 2007; Canada, Office of
 the Auditor General 2011b

Human resource Cartwright 2011; Tellier and
management Emerson 2011; Glenn 2012

Grants and contributions Canada, Office of the Auditor
 General 2006a; Lankin and Clark
 2006; Lindquist 2010

Project management and Brown 2010; Tellier and
capital investment Emerson 2011
Internal audit Larson and Zussman 2010;
 Shepherd 2011

Values and ethics Langford and Tupper 2006;
 Heintzman 2007
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Author:Charko, Phil
Publication:Canadian Public Administration
Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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