Evidence of meeting #13 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Derek Lee

I'll call the meeting to order.

Colleagues, for our review of the estimates we are welcoming today the Public Service Commission, represented by the president, Maria Barrados; senior vice-president of the policy branch, Donald Lemaire; and Richard Charlebois, vice-president, corporate management branch.

Madam Barrados, I know you'll have an opening statement. There are a whole lot of issues I know colleagues want to bite into, so we'll get started now. Welcome.

You're free to commence your remarks.

11:10 a.m.

Maria Barrados President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Mr. Chair and honourable members, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss our main estimates as well as our report on plans and priorities, or RPP, for the upcoming year. They set out our plans and budgets, and some of the challenges we face.

I am here today with Donald Lemaire, senior vice president of policy, and Richard Charlebois, vice president, corporate management Branch.

This year, we are providing a shorter and more focused report as part of the broad initiative led by Treasury Board to provide more streamlined reporting to Parliament. Should members wish to have more details, supplementary information is readily available on our website through a link to our RPP.

In our RPP, the PSC's net planned spending for 2009-10 is about $95 million, with a staff complement of 989. In addition, the PSC has vote-netting authority of $14 million for cost-recovery of counselling and assessment products and services provided to federal organizations. Our total planned spending is $109 million.

I would like to point out that our planned spending for 2009-10 is lower than the forecast spending for 2008-09 by about $10.3 million. This is due primarily to the carry-forward from 2007-08 to 2008-09 of $4.8 million, salary adjustments of $2.8 million, the human resources horizontal review reduction of $3.1 million, and other minor offsetting adjustments.

With regard to the horizontal review reductions, we were one of six organizations that participated in the review. As a result, the PSC's annual budget has been reduced, as I mentioned, by $3.1 million in 2009-10. It will be reduced by a further $1.5 million in 2011-12, for a total permanent reduction of $4.6 million.

We feel this 5% cut is manageable through increased efficiencies in our operations. In addition, we have greater authority for cost-recovery. These changes will not affect our capacity to implement our strategic priorities.

Also in 2009-10, a total of $1.5 million has been permanently removed from the PSC's budget because we are no longer doing appeals.

For the longer term, we are showing further reductions in 2011-12. At that time, our planned spending decreases by $8.4 million, which is primarily due to the end of sunset funding for our electronic recruitment and screening system, the public service resourcing system.

Our strategic outcome has remained constant—to provide Canadians with a highly competent, non-partisan and representative public service, able to provide service in both official languages, in which appointments are based on the values of fairness, access, transparency and representativeness.

In support of our strategic outcome, in 2009-2010, we are focusing our attention and resources on five priorities: to put in place a well-functioning, delegated staffing model; to provide independent oversight and assurance to Parliament on the integrity of the staffing system and the non-partisanship of the federal public service; to enable organizations to manage their delegated responsibilities; to provide integrated and modernized staffing and assessment services; and to build on the model organization.

Our strategic outcome and priorities are supported by four program activities.

Our planned spending under the appointment integrity and political neutrality activity is $10.7 million. This activity includes establishing policies and standards and providing advice, interpretation, and guidance. It also includes administering delegated authorities for 82 departments and agencies, as well as administering non-delegated authorities such as the priority system and political activities regime.

Our second program activity is oversight of integrity of staffing and political neutrality. We have allocated $21.7 million to this area. It includes monitoring compliance with legislative requirements, as well as conducting audits, studies, and evaluations. It also includes carrying out investigations into allegations of fraud in external staffing and allegations of improper political activities.

Our third activity is staffing services and assessment, which accounts for $30.7 million of our spending. Here we also have authority to spend funds generated through cost-recovery. Through this activity we provide assessment-related products and services in the form of research and development, as well as assessment and counselling for use in recruitment, selection, and development throughout the federal public service. We manage systems such as the jobs.gc.ca website that link Canadians and public servants seeking employment opportunities in the federal public service with hiring departments and agencies. We have a growing volume of applications in the recruitment programs we operate, including post-secondary recruitment, PSR, and the federal student work experience program, FSWEP. More than 55,000 applications were received in the PSR's fall 2008 campaign. Last year applications under FSWEP numbered approximately 73,000. The PSC also operates a network of regional offices.

Our fourth and final program activity is internal services, with planned spending of $32 million. This activity provides all central services and systems in support of PSC programs, including finance, human resources, and information technology. Unlike other departments and agencies, our internal services include the offices of the president and commissioners, the library, and internal audit. In order to be more efficient, we have also centralized within this program activity our corporate support services, such as communications and parliamentary affairs, legal services, and acquisition of IT equipment and furniture.

I'd like to turn to some of the challenges in the public service that have implications for public service staffing. They include the increasing rate of departures due to retirements, the growth of the public service, and the high level of mobility that I spoke to this committee about last month. The federal government is Canada's largest employer. We have high interest in public service jobs. We had 22 million visits to our website and we received one million applications to 11,000 job openings in 2007-2008. This level of interest is expected to increase, given the current economic situation.

The modernization of the federal public service staffing system and the ongoing implementation of the Public Service Employment Act, or PSEA, are our responsibilities. We are moving forward with our planning for the five-year review required by the PSEA by December 2010.

In 2008-2009, we initiated a review of the PSC's oversight function by an independent committee, led by Larry Murray. The review confirmed the appropriateness and level of effort of the PSC's current approach to oversight. It concluded there is a need for increased capacity and resources for our monitoring activities. We have accepted the committee's 18 recommendations and three conclusions, and are finalizing an action plan to address them.

Operating on a cost-recovery basis for more and more of our counselling and assessment services is not without risks. We have grown our cost-recovery operations significantly over the past two years, from $6 million to about $11 million. We are currently in discussions with Treasury Board Secretariat to obtain the financial flexibilities we require to operate more effectively within a cost-recovery environment, such as additional carry-forward authority and front-end financing for investments in developing services and products.

We have created electronic recruitment and assessment tools for external hiring into the public service in support of staffing modernization and the implementation of the national area of selection. From pilot testing in 2002, the PSC has developed and implemented the public service resourcing system. It is now fully operational and accessible by all departments for hiring into the public service. The system costs $7.2 million a year to operate for the government, with a total project expenditure to date of $52 million. Our project has been on time, on budget, and has met all Treasury Board and contracting requirements.

Treasury Board funding for the current project will run out in two years. The current system has limitations, and investment is required to support continued staffing modernization. The system should be expanded to handle all internal staffing transactions. There were more than 67,000 of those last year. Without improvement, we face the brown-out and rust-out of our current tools, and limited advancement in improved reporting. An enhanced system would also be more user-friendly for job seekers, provide better screening and assessment tools, and provide greater flexibility. We believe these investments make good business sense and offer a significant return on investment. We estimate that significant annual savings, of approximately $38 million per year, will accrue to federal departments and agencies through greater operational efficiencies.

The PSC is preparing a submission to Treasury Board to obtain funding for the investment required for a long-term solution and the ongoing operation of this system beyond 2011.

Mr. Chair and honourable members, the PSC is committed to excellence in its work on behalf of Parliament and Canadians. We have received clean audit opinions from the Auditor General the last three years. We have effective internal audit and we received strong ratings by Treasury Board on our management accountability framework. l am encouraged by the progress that has been made in implementing the PSEA, but more work needs to be done. We have presented our plans and priorities for this reporting period, and we have also identified some of our challenges. We are confident we can meet them. Public service renewal, together with the modernization of human resources management, is critical in building a highly competent, professional and non-partisan public service.

Thank you. We are happy to take your questions at this time.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Derek Lee

Thank you very much, Madam Barrados.

I just wanted to comment that your estimates fall under Canadian Heritage, which looks like an odd place for them to be, but it does recognize that the Public Service Commission doesn't really have a responsible minister. So I just want to say we appreciate your efforts and those of the commission to stay connected to Parliament.

Having said that, I'll go to Ms. Hall Findlay, for eight minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and once again, I wish to welcome the witnesses. Thank you for being here and congratulations on your hard work and your accomplishments.

One of the questions that's not considered in this report, but is hard for us to avoid because of recent media attention to it, is the question of visible minorities in the public service. I know, Madam Barrados, you spoke to this a little bit the last time you were here. Could you just enlighten us a little bit on where we are from your perspective in addressing some of the uncertainties raised in the media? In particular, a question I have is how do we actually define what a visible minority is? That's a fairly big question, but if I could leave that open to you, it would be very helpful.

11:20 a.m.

President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Maria Barrados

Thank you for the question.

We went to the Senate human rights committee and we had the discussion about the problem that I had raised before, that we had difficulty with estimating the actual numbers. We went before the committee and we gave our results in our estimates, which were that we felt, based on our system that I talked about in the opening statement, our inflow of visible minorities in the public service is significantly higher than we had been estimating before. And it is due to how the numbers are collected.

We ended up reporting for 2007-08 that the inflow, or the proportion coming into the public service of all the jobs that are advertised.... So there's a serious limit on this, as it's all the jobs that are advertised. For 2007-08, 17% of the hires through the advertised jobs were members of visible minority groups. The old way of estimating that would have been 9.5%. We have concluded, on that basis, that there has been a serious underestimation of the inflow.

There are a number of issues that become associated with that. The obvious question is, how many people do you have in the public service today? I can tell you about inflow, the number coming in in the last two years, but I can't tell you about the flow for the last ten years to give you an estimate of what there is today. We have to continue to work at that number to try to get a better number.

I can't give you a number for the ones that have come in through unadvertised processes, but 28% of the new hires are through unadvertised processes. So I have a partial number. That partial number gives me good news.

The controversy that you've seen in the media is that there is discomfort with this number. I feel very confident the number is a good number for the limits I have just put around it.

Now, the question is, how do you measure visible minorities? There's a lot of debate around this one. We have settled on how people declare themselves. There are two processes in government that give us these two different numbers, and I talked about this the last time. The number that I am using is what people fill in on an application form. We now have an automated system. Anybody who applies to one of these posted jobs goes through the screens to fill in on this system. One of the things that we call a “forced field”, in that you must answer it to go on and submit your application, is this question: Are you a member of a visible minority group? You say yes or no. You can say no and you go onto the next one. If you say yes, it takes you to what kind of group you're a member of.

Those are the numbers we have used. The other number that is being used is a questionnaire that people are given in government, and it is much more voluntary. It gives me a lower number. We are starting some work to determine exactly how rigorous this process is. I am assuming that if somebody identifies in their application, they would identify when they're at work. But again, that's a question.

One of the things we have seen when we've done our analysis is that for some departments the numbers are very close. So what is on the application form and what people do on that survey that's done in government are very close. The Department of Justice is one that's very close; the two numbers are close to one another. For my own organization, they're not. I could start in our own organization and figure out why there's such a difference.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

I have to say that in my riding of Willowdale, thanks to the extraordinary diversity--it's fantastic--because of the colour of my skin, I am actually now in a visible minority. I look forward to the time when in this country we don't actually have to have this conversation. But when somebody is filling out an application, and you ask the question, “Are you a member of a visible minority?”, and by recognizing too that there is a connection among those groups and newer Canadians who may actually not have as much facility with either of the official languages, for example, is it assumed that people just understand what that means and why the question is being asked? There are two pieces to that question, in the sense of coming from the private sector and knowing full well that in many cases people will actually not specify that or their background in an application for fear of discrimination the other way.

11:25 a.m.

President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Maria Barrados

It is possible that people don't fill it in because they don't want to self-identify or self-declare. That's an individual choice.

The way the Public Service Employment Act is set up, there is preference for Canadian citizens, so if you take the number of visible minorities you see in the census number, and then you take the number that would be eligible to work in the public service, there is a drop of about 5%. I think I have that right. That is because the preference for employment is Canadian citizens. Because of that, I don't have any evidence to suggest there is difficulty understanding the form.

We've done some work on that. We could always make our forms better. A lot of people will say they have some difficulties with some of our forms, but I don't really have any evidence to suggest that visible minority groups have more difficulties than others.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

What is visible? For example, would somebody from southern Europe who may have a darker complexion than mine think of himself or herself as a member of a visible minority? It's a tough question. It's a question our society has to come to grips with, but given that this is the issue we're dealing with right now....

11:30 a.m.

President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Maria Barrados

It is a very difficult question, and I don't have an easy answer. I have taken the best advice I can get, and the advice that I have been given is that it's a matter of how people self-identify and how they feel culturally connected. Some people look very different visibly but may not feel any connection with their community or their cultural group, whereas others may. We do it on that basis.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

On that basis, I have to give some thought to the use of the word “visible”.

11:30 a.m.

President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Maria Barrados

Mr. Lemaire reminds me it is defined in the Employment Equity Act, so we are going by that piece of legislation.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Willowdale, ON

Thank you very much.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Derek Lee

Madame Bourgeois, for eight minutes.

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Hello, Ms. Barrados, Mr. Lemaire and Mr. Charlebois.

In your opening remarks, you talked about the savings you have achieved in the Public Service Commission's budget. That is very encouraging.

Concerning the work you have done in terms of staffing, you have made a concerted effort to give senior officials the authority to hire staff or other senior officials.

Is that correct?

11:30 a.m.

President, Public Service Commission of Canada

Maria Barrados

In the past, the commission was responsible for that for senior officials. From now on, under new legislation and the delegated staffing system, everything is delegated to senior officials and other public servants.