Performance
May 7, 2012

Achieving high performance in government

Sheila Fraser is finishing her term as the Auditor General of Canada. In her 10 years as an independent officer of Parliament, she has not only held the government to account for its stewardship of public monies, but also championed the efficient use of resources to achieve objectives. Ms. Fraser provides CGE readers with some parting advice.

 

As I have approached the end of my term as Auditor General of Canada, I have reflected upon a decade that I consider remarkable in many ways for the Office of the Auditor General. We have built on the existing strengths of this important institution, and I believe the Office is well positioned to meet the challenges of the future.

I have also reflected on 10 years of audit reports, and a few key lessons have emerged that government executives might consider as they steer their organizations toward high performance.

Implementation challenge

Over the years our audits have highlighted real needs in government – ensuring that information technology systems are secure against new, more sophisticated threats; recruiting and retaining a talented workforce; and ensuring that departments and agencies have the financial and non-financial information needed for sound program decisions.

We have said that government must go beyond stating principles and put into effect clear, detailed plans of action. We have found in our audits how important it is, when the government designs programs, develops policies and makes commitments, that it fully analyze the practical challenges of implementing them successfully.

Having a complete picture of what needs to be done, by whom and when, how much it will cost, what risks are involved, how other programs might be affected, and what has or has not worked well to date, can make the difference between a program that meets its objectives and one that does not, one that delivers results for Canadians and one that does not.

People who can deliver

Even the most well-designed policies and programs are ineffective without people to deliver them. Every government department needs to know whether it possesses the skills and competencies to deliver its programs, and what it will need in the years ahead. Across government, the number of experienced senior employees who are retiring is increasing, and when they retire, they take their knowledge and expertise with them.

At the Office of the Auditor General, too, a large part of the staff is nearing retirement. The challenges the Office faces mirror those of the government as a whole – the need for the right people, working in the right environment, with the right tools. We have responded with a significant reinvestment in the infrastructure of the Office: our human capital and our audit methodology and tools.

To protect its investment in the right people, an organization needs to foster employee satisfaction and continuity. We have carried out an employee survey every two years and used the results to create a management plan for action, developed with input from employees. We have also emphasized a healthy balance between people management and product management; for example, 50 percent of managers’ performance pay is tied to how they manage people.

Using internal audit

An important tool for managers in improving their organizations is internal audit. Many of the problems that have been the subject of our audit reports were first raised by internal auditors. A capable internal audit function provides senior management with objective, independent assurance that its financial, administrative, and operational controls and management practices are effective.

Auditing does not stop at revealing flaws. It can also identify ways to help managers improve their programs’ performance. Where a program is doing poorly, the challenge for auditors is to go beyond reporting poor performance and identify concrete steps to improve it – to bring about positive changes in government management. I am pleased at the strengthening of internal audit in government and at the growing appreciation among senior managers of the contribution it can make to high performance.

Pride in the public service

I acknowledge the talent and professionalism of the many people who have served with me as employees of the Office of the Auditor General. I thank them for their dedication and support in meeting the challenges we have faced together.

And while it is our negative audit findings that have most often garnered media attention, I have found that they do not represent the public service as a whole. Canadians can be proud of the dedicated, non-partisan professionals who have kept the public service a strong institution. Public servants protect our sovereignty, our security, and our economic interests at home and abroad. I end my term as Auditor General impressed by the professionalism, commitment and resilience of public servants in their efforts to ensure that Canadians are well served by their government.

 

Sheila Fraser was appointed Auditor General of Canada on 31 May 2001. Her mandate ended on 30 May 2011.

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