Bleeding in the trenches… - Canadian Government Executive
Procurement
January 2, 2013

Bleeding in the trenches…

Canada’s new Chief of the Defence Staff has been mandated to stop the practice of senior DND personnel retiring and being employed as consultants by the business sector to work with, or for, DND.  More generally, the president of the Treasury Board has announced new rules to limit the number of former public servants in receipt of a pension (FPSRP) who, after retiring, return to work under contract as consultants.

The new rules focus on the public disclosure of such contracts over $10,000. There appears to be an implicit objective of eliminating improper relationships between FPSRPs and their former colleagues still in government. Laudable, but in both instances the consequence is going to be even more rules that blatantly discriminate against people who have spent long careers in the public service.

The Treasury Board Contracts Directive requires that any contract with a FRSPR that is over $25,000 if non-competitive – or $100,000 if competitive – be approved by the Board. No other segment of the population faces a similar restriction, so this discrimination is based not only on career choice by individual Canadians but also on age, since you can’t receive one of those pensions until you hit a certain age.

And now government will be denied the knowledge, skills and expertise of FPSRPs simply because years ago they made the career choice to serve Canadians.

A person who retires after 35 years in the private sector, with no useful knowledge of how government works, can compete freely for government contracts, but a person with a similar career in the public service, and with intimate knowledge, will be increasingly barred. The private sector person can start a company and provide FPSRPs to the government under contract, but a FPSRP who also starts a company to do the same thing will face new barriers.

To what end?

Well, more rules. But the fact is that more rules do not necessarily mean more integrity. More likely, as people seek ways to work in an increasingly rules-bound environment, the temptation to find “ways around” will grow, and each way around risks compromising integrity.

The result for existing public service managers is likely more bleeding in the trenches as more limitations and restrictions are put on their ability to get their jobs done. The result is a government workplace of death by a thousand cuts because as rules are added:

  • the slower the process of achieving results becomes;
  • the more expensive achieving those results becomes, as increasingly scarce resources must “follow” those labour-intensive rules;
  • results tend to suffer, as focus switches from doing the job to following the rules (or getting around them);
  • rewards go increasingly to the rules followers and less to those who actually deliver, with the result that the drive for service excellence diminishes; and
  • when FPSRPs are excluded, the cost of any given contract increases, as the government must pay for an outsider (non-FPSRP) to “learn” government before actually getting to work.

Mind you, in a perfect world, rewards would flow to those who follow the rules – but a perfect world requires perfect rules, and we are not there yet.

The President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, has self-imposed the requirement that he approve all contracts with FPSRPs proposed by his department. How long before other ministers take the same approach? Any decision file that gets to a minister will have already been scrutinized by directors, directors general, assistant deputy ministers and the deputy – that’s a lot of very expensive and scarce talent.

Then, what is the risk that the decisions will actually be made by political staffers? Does anyone else see the potential: federal procurement that is “fair, open, transparent” and political?

Quite likely the result will be active discouraging of any proposal to contract with an FPSRP. And there’s a final cut. Many federal skill sets are unique to the federal government, from the military, through classification, to procurement. If you need contracted-for expertise, the pool of potential contractors is therefore quite limited.

And the irony is that these are more rules for the public service, while the government announced new plans to reduce red tape for business. No FPSRPs – no expertise; no expertise, then what?

Part of the situation is government’s apparent inability to adequately transfer knowledge from retiring public servants.  I will address that next month, coupled with a likely public service response that will have an effect totally counter to what Mr. Clement says he is trying to achieve.

John Read provides procurement consulting services to public sector clients. He served for almost 15 years in the Public Works procurement arena and is in receipt of a pension.

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