AccountabilityAuditManagement
June 7, 2013

The auditor’s cautionary tale

After the Auditor General’s (AG) report was released on April 30, the national media were quick to draw attention to the more than $3 billion in anti-terrorism spending that was unaccounted for and the large number of overpayments to employment insurance recipients.

Sadly, the chapter entitled, “Status Report on Evaluating the Effectiveness of Programs,” attracted no media attention although it arguably could be characterized as the most important chapter for two reasons.

First, this chapter updates an earlier assessment of how well the federal government monitors the effectiveness of its more than $280 billion annual spending. Second, the evaluations that are being audited in this chapter form the basis, in theory, for either justifying continuing program expenditures or for abandoning underperforming programs. As a result, the health of the evaluation function is more fundamental to good government practices than problems with individual program spending.

Program evaluation has a long-standing and proud place in Canadian public administration. The federal government was among the first in the world during the 1970s to issue an evaluation policy and to create evaluation units in most departments. Since that time, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) has revised the policy four times to reflect changes in performance measurement systems, comptrollership functions, and deputy minister accountabilities.

The 2009 revision to the policy staked out an ambitious program with three objectives. These were, first, to review all ongoing programs of grants and contributions in order to assess their relevance and effectiveness every five years. Second, to evaluate all direct program spending for relevance and performance every five years. And, third, to address five core questions in those areas of direct program spending: whether there is a need to continue the program; if the program aligns with government priorities; if the program falls under federal jurisdiction; whether the program has achieved expected outcomes; and if there is evidence of the program’s efficiency and economy.

Within this context the evaluation chapter in the Auditor General’s report sends a cautionary note to Parliamentarians. In essence, the chapter examines whether the federal government, after four years of preparation, is in a position to fully implement the 2009 evaluation policy.

Uncharacteristically, the Auditor General’s study is a rather modest effort given the far-reaching importance of the audit. Instead of looking at all federal departments, the audit team limited its work to scrutinizing the TBS’s evaluation group and three of the six departments that had previously been audited in 2009. While this is an unrepresentative sample of the full range of federal departments, it does send a “canary in the mineshaft” message that the new policy does not appear to have taken hold within the departments. As a consequence, there is a high probability that when Parliamentarians finally turn their attention to program performance, they will not have the evidence they need to assess program spending.

Written in the most careful way, the AG is signaling that departments are not fully complying with the 2009 evaluation policy. More specifically, the AG notes that there has been some significant progress on grants and contributions but poor progress has been made on evaluating major departmental programs. The AG also suggests that the current self-evaluation reporting practice of how much has been accomplished is misleading and “the TBS should review the tools it uses to monitor evaluation coverage to ensure that they provide an accurate perspective on departmental progress.”

Most important, the evaluation findings are not being used to support spending decisions and “the departments are not fully realizing the potential benefits of presenting evaluation results in Treasury Board submissions.” Finally, the Auditor General also advised the Centre of Excellence for Evaluation in TBS to provide greater leadership in tracking evaluation coverage of direct program spending, in assessing efficiency and economy, and in conducting neutral assessments of their evaluation functions.

One day, parliamentarians might be interested in linking program performance to ministerial requests for annual spending appropriations. While it is not likely to happen soon given the way in which the House of Commons holds the government to account, it is still imperative for the public service to have this crucial information available to legislators.

In the meantime, deputy ministers might take a close look at the performance of their Departmental Audit Committees (DACs) and look for ways in which the DAC might serve as a model for ensuring that the 2009 evaluation policy is properly implemented.

About this author

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

Accountability
 
The Chief Information Officer hoisted a thick binder up to eye...
 
What’s your organisation’s mission? Hopefully, you know what it does on...
 
OTTAWA, July 31 – CPA Canada, (Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada) announced their Public Sector Conference ,...
 
We live in the age of paradox.  Never before in human...
 
Despite a rapid expansion in digital democracy initiatives around the globe,...
 
On October 22, 2018, elections were held in Ontario’s 400+ municipalities....
 
What are the key initiatives to support government innovation and change?...
 
Buying Social. Responsible sourcing. Ethical procurement. Sustainable procurement. Whatever name you...
 
In this episode, Lori Turnbull discusses the positive side of disruption,...
 
The Annual Financial Report of the Government of Canada Fiscal Year...
 
According to a 2018 study led by Dr. Michael McGuire, Senior...
 
Imagine your favorite world class service provider replacing the Board of...
 
When Mark Zuckerberg checked out of Harvard for California’s Silicon Valley,...
 
In his article, Gaming the System, How the misuse of data impedes...
 
My observation is people often take the view, “no one else...
 
The recent 2018 Senate Report examining the Government of Canada’s Phoenix...
 
Human services agencies play a vital role in society, providing a...
 
Tornado warnings broadcast a few weeks ago in Eastern Ontario and...
 
Canada’s international reputation for welcoming and integrating newcomers is unparalleled. At...
 
A few years back, consultants with ghSMART told us the biggest...
 
On today’s show, J. Richard Jones sits down for a chat...
 
Procurement modernization has been a Government of Canada (GC) policy priority...
 
It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and just moments...
 
Over the past two decades, codes of ethical conduct have become...
 
Earlier this year the Canadian government took a crucial step by...
 
On the global scene, technology has revolutionized and automated the work...
 
Over the past decade, major Canadian procurement projects have encountered increasing...
 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, on many occasions, expressed his commitment...
 
In this episode, CGE radio show host J. Richard Jones speaks...
 
There is growing pressure on governments around the world to be...
 
Public servants are responsible for providing advice and support to the...
 
Today, the challenges facing governments are increasingly shifting away from traditional,...
 
Management in the Government of Canada is continuously searching for new...
 
Rankings of public sector entities has been big trend for quite...
 
Canadian Government Executive media through its upcoming TechGov event is providing the...
 
Ships docked in a harbour may not be going anywhere; however,...
 
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in issuing its annual review of...
 
There’s no shortage of organizations claiming to have a digital transformation...
 
Cybersecurity professionals have sounded the alarm for years, and they are...
 
Cost estimation is becoming an extremely important skill within government due...
 
In this special episode of CGE Radio, your host John Jones...
 
Security professionals have an obligation to communicate risks and recommendations to...
 
Risk is always present in any undertaking, no matter the size...
 
Cost overruns have become institutionalized in the federal government, according to...
 
Last year, procurement Minister Jody Foote was prompted by the swirling...
 
Professionals, managers, and executives in the cost estimation industry can gain...
 
In this episode, hear from Carl Hammersburg, Manager, Government and Healthcare...
 
A new study from the Conference Board of Canada gives our...
 
In the world that we are living in today, free and...
 
The delivery method developed by Sir Michael Barber, chief adviser to...
 
Rules and accountability are helpful in developing and standardizing processes but...
 
Canadian doctors were told that climate change impacts human health and...
 
Even as talks between the government and federal workers affected problems...
 
The largest effort in 20 years to seek public input on...
 
Ottawa has overhauled the process by which justices are picked for...
 
July 27 was pay day some federal public workers that finally...
 
The Senate committee looking into Canada’s Syrian refugee program wants the...
 
In this episode, editor-in-chief, Patrice Dutil talks about the need for...
 
Yes, according to the former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence...
 
As much a 20 per cent of grade seven students in...
 
A Quebec superior court judge facing allegations that he helped commit...
 
In a move meant to the strengthen liability and compensation regime...
 
We often read news articles about rampant drug addiction and suicide...
 
Upon receiving numerous complaints regarding add-on fees that turn making economy...
 
Are you absolutely clear what the government wants to achieve? Are...
 
Veterans Affairs Canada is not adequately managing the drug component of...
 
Whether responding to emergencies back home or assisting regular troops abroad,...
 
Some public servants will have to request their departments for emergency...
 
A landmark Supreme Court ruling has paved the way for some...
 
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) yesterday heard from several...
 
At least one prime minister has resigned, another in under fire,...
 
It appears it was not just the Mounties that were affected...
 
A while back there have been numerous media reports about the...
 
Performance auditing can lead to more efficient, effective, and economical program...
 
Written By Jason McNaught The Public Service Alliance of Canada was...
 
Independence has long been regarded as a cornerstone of the auditing...
 
Canada is a diverse nation, in language, culture, geography, and, ultimately,...
 
Public sector organizations are under increasing pressure to identify all risks...
 
The government of Canada has implemented several measures over the past...
 
Whether at the territorial, provincial or federal government level, internal audit...
 
An organization’s reputation can take years to build but it can...
 
On October 30, Ontario began second reading of the Public Sector...
 
In the well-known children’s story, an Emperor falls victim to the...
 
The Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman is a small operation...
 
I think the ombudsman needs to be independent, because without independence...
 
Today’s business environment changes rapidly to adjust to evolving conditions and...
 
The best internal auditors actually are really good managers first. I...
 
The recent controversy about the actions of some staff members in...
 
Most professionals don’t need more than a sentence at a cocktail...
 
Recent research by the Institute of Internal Auditors Canada aims to...
 
When is it that a politician becomes part of the governing...
 
It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the information, privacy...
 
In 1996, a new budget watchdog, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, was...
 
The Ontario government is moving forward with the creation of a...
 
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC)...
 
After the Auditor General’s (AG) report was released on April 30,...
 
In the U.K. system, Permanent Secretaries are what we call Deputy...
 
We are living in a period of rapid change and limited...
 
US public sector employees don’t trust their management to do the...
 
The news of Mark Carney’s nomination as the new Governor of...
 
Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, the controversial leadership of Lee Kuan...
 
Over the past few years, the preparation and delivery of the...
 
In healthcare, cost-cutting can result in cutting what is valued most...
 
For over 20 years Colin Bennett has been exploring issues of...
 
Even before controversy shook the organization to its foundation, Ornge was...
 
It will be the largest international multi-sport event ever held on...
 
We’ve all seen the headlines – BC Ferries, Ornge, la Caisse...
 
It can happen, and it’s noteworthy when it does. Government, business...
 
Kevin Page’s mandate as the first Parliamentary Budget Officer comes to...
 
Governments are challenged to meaningfully mitigate the effects of the financial...
 
Canada is facing a huge financial challenge brought on by massive...
 
For the past one hundred years, democratic states have been moving...
 
It’s so much easier and less painful to learn from the...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.2 February 2007 Canada’s Performance 2006 is the sixth...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.1 January 2008 The furor over the $300,000 that...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.7 September 2007 "If the Public Service, as a...
 
When pondering leadership, we immediately think of exercising our influence downward...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 "How can I be held accountable...
 
CGE Vol.14 No.2 February 2008 Let’s say you’re a senior manager,...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.1 January 2007 Perhaps it’s a legacy of the...
 
Last fall, Alberta’s Employment and Immigration department posted online the workplace...
 
As the global economy struggles to regain some forward momentum, Canadian...
 
This will be a defining budget for Stephen Harper. It will...
 
It is difficult to determine when the debate about the need...
 
For the next few years, the federal government’s overarching agenda will...
 
Much of the current conversation about the federal government’s economic agenda...
 
In 2006 the world was feeling the aftershocks of a number...
 
The Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grants and Contributions called for...
 
Au Canada, le secteur bénévole et à but non lucratif vit...
 
CGE Vol.13 No.4 April 2007 Robert Parkins, editorial director, met recently...
 
Bill Greenlaw is the elected president of the Institute for Public...
 
In the past two decades, the nature of the state has...
 
Have you ever asked yourself the question: ‘How would I evaluate...
 
In recent months, the attention of Canadians has been focused on...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
The Chief Information Officer hoisted a thick binder up to eye...