HR
May 7, 2012

Achievements and challenges for the Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission is a unique Canadian institution. Its mandate as a guardian of merit and the non-partisan character of the federal public service was first enshrined in federal statute over one hundred years ago. It is an independent agency, with exclusive responsibility for appointments to the core public service. The PSC is accountable to Parliament for safeguarding the integrity of the staffing system and the political neutrality of the public service.

I have had the great privilege to serve as president during the implementation of the most comprehensive reforms in human resource management in the past 35 years. Many of our accomplishments spring from these reforms, in particular, an amended Public Service Employment Act (PSEA).

To fully implement the vision of modernized staffing set forth in the PSEA, the PSC made important changes on three fronts to the way it supports departments: its policy guidance to deputy heads and managers, its oversight activities, and its selection and assessment services. We have been committed to continuous improvement in each of these areas.

New framework

We put an Appointment Policy Framework in place. This high-level network of policies, tools and guides helps deputy heads use their delegated authorities around key issues in the staffing process and offers guidance on how to apply the new definition of merit.

We currently have formal delegation agreements with deputy heads of 84 organizations; I personally review these agreements and meet with deputy heads who sign the agreement for the first time. We set out our expectations along with performance indicators and measures in the Staffing Management Accountability Framework. We are collecting more data centrally, for instance, through our electronic application system. Hence, we were able to cut the reporting burden on departments by 60 percent.

This framework has been updated from time to time to reflect policy changes. For instance, in December 2008, at the request of Parliament, we eliminated geographic restrictions on externally advertised permanent jobs and terms of more than six months. As a result, Canadians regardless of where they live may apply for those jobs.

Effective oversight

Effective oversight is crucial in a highly delegated system. The PSC increased its own oversight capacity to hold departments and agencies accountable for their staffing actions.

We have an integrated approach based on receiving good information from organizations, providing feedback on their performance so that they can improve their practices, and working with deputy heads to resolve problems as they arise. Our monitoring helps identify staffing issues as well as individual organizations that may require a closer look. In our 2009-2010 Annual Report, we reported on the audits of eight organizations, and issued three separate studies including one on the use of temporary help services, undertaken at the request of Parliament in April 2009. We also reported on the PSC investigations into those appointment processes where we find questionable practices or abuses.

In 2009, an independent review of our oversight activities concluded that the PSC’s overall level of effort is appropriate and recommended some adjustments, for instance, in our monitoring. We have addressed their recommendations.

Selection services

Our services continue to grow, improve and be innovative. With HR modernization, deputy heads are able to choose from a variety of options to meet their recruitment and assessment needs. More and more of our services are provided on a cost-recovery basis. In a four-year period, our cost-recovery operations nearly doubled.

An advisory committee comprised of deputy ministers provides valuable input on PSC’s services. Our goal is to create a centre of expertise in staffing and assessment. We’re investing in modernizing our technology and services with tools such as Internet testing and we offer our expertise and tailored services to organizations with the intent of reducing time to staff. In collaboration with departments and agencies, we’ve revamped the jobs.gc.ca website to make it more job-seeker friendly. We are embracing Web 2.0 to engage job seekers through a virtual career fair.

We are moving to integrate internal public service staffing with our external staffing system and provide more efficient services to organizations across the public service. Departments have agreed to share in the costs of maintaining and enhancing the electronic recruitment system.

Reporting to Parliament

We report to Parliament on all of these activities in support of organizations, and on the performance of the staffing system.

Our 2009-2010 Annual Report covers the fourth year of operation under the PSEA. We reported that the essential elements of the Act are in place: we have a well-functioning and fully delegated system, and the core and guiding values are generally being respected.

The performance of organizations in the area of staffing priorities and strategies has improved significantly, with 63 percent demonstrating “acceptable” or “strong” performance in 2009-2010, compared to 15 percent in 2007-2008.

While there has been progress meeting the objectives of the PSEA, some challenges remain. The most important is the need to sustain values-based staffing. While merit is generally being respected across the public service, hiring managers are still not consistently demonstrating that they understand how to apply the core and guiding values. A continued effort, by the PSC and all stakeholders, is required to ensure that managers fully understand how to apply the values in their staffing decisions.

Another area where there is room for improvement is time to staff. One of the primary expectations of the PSEA was that staffing would be faster and more efficient. The average time to staff permanent, advertised positions has remained relatively stable, at 23.5 weeks. This can be significantly reduced – by up to 30 percent – within the existing PSEA framework and policies without compromising our staffing values.

Strong HR planning and project management are key. We are encouraging organizations to be more aggressive in addressing time to staff, including by establishing benchmarks.

A third challenge is in the area of non-partisanship. The public service has had thousands of recent recruits who will need to learn what it means to be a public servant in a professional non-partisan public service. Technology is having an impact. Social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook blur the lines between public servants’ professional and personal lives and give more visibility to political activities or affiliations that may undermine the political neutrality of the public service. We have been consulting academics, current and former public servants, and parliamentarians on how to safeguard a non-partisan public service in today’s world.

We will elaborate on these questions in a Special Report to Parliament, which will assess the effectiveness of the legislation and recommend areas for change. It will also contribute to the formal legislative review of the PSEA led by the president of the Treasury Board.

Conclusion

Human resource modernization represented a cultural shift across the public service. Now the challenge for all players, including managers, HR specialists, deputy heads and the PSC is to move beyond implementation to ensure sustainability and achieve the efficiencies presented by a highly-delegated, values-based staffing system.

Over the past seven years, the PSC has responded to many challenges. None of its achievements would have been possible without the dedication an

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