MPs take aim at Services Canada

In an interesting article in the Ottawa Citizen Pete O'Neill reports on the reaction of some MPs to the new Services Canada. Earlier I had predicted that this was another disaster in the making. Many MPs seem to think so too. Interesting is the focus on Flumian and her previous experience at the gun registry. John Williams states that an agency like this needs a first-class administrator and expresses doubt that Flumian meets that criterion. If he's in any doubt he should talk to some senior people in DFO about her performance as ADM during Bruce Rawson's tenure as Deputy there in the early 1990s. "First class administrator" is not the first phrase he will hear. PMO's attempts to defend the appointment are pathetic and bear no relation to reality. Here's the article:

'One-stop-shop' federal agency draws MPs' fire
Opposition warns that Service Canada will be another 'ineffectual bureaucracy'

Peter O'Neil
The Vancouver Sun

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Service Canada, a new "one- stop" federal agency aimed at improving service to Canadians while saving taxpayers $2.5 billion, is being viewed with deep skepticism by MPs across the political spectrum.

And some say it is a bad omen that the bureaucrat leading the three-year initiative is the former chief executive officer of the $1-billion gun registry, which was supposed to have cost just $2 million when it was launched a decade ago.

Service Canada, created in the 2005 federal budget, delivers dozens of federal programs and services offered by 12 departments. Canadians obtain a variety of services -- from employment insurance cheques to travel information --by dialing 1-800-O Canada or going on-line at www.servicecanada.gc.ca .

The initiative, headed by tough-talking Maryantonett Flumian of gun registry fame, will cost $500 million to implement as it expands over three years. The goal, in addition to reducing the frustration of Canadians trying to get through to the massive federal bureaucracy, is to provide net savings of $2.5 billion by streamlining services and cutting the workforce.

But MPs question the projections and fear there could be a repeat of the gun registry.

"Here it comes, folks -- another ineffective bureaucracy," said Conservative MP Randy White, an occasional member of the House of Commons government operations committee that will look into the Service Canada initiative. "And if it's as bad as the gun registry then we should all beware."

Liberal Diane Marleau, a member of the House of Commons operations committee, said she doesn't believe the government can somehow streamline into an efficient "single window" operation the $60 billion in services provided by hundreds of federal programs.

"I am somewhat skeptical and at times very skeptical," Ms. Marleau said. "I worry that it's more centralized services ... and, frankly, less service for the regions."

The NDP's Pat Martin is also doubtful. "This single-window stuff looks good on paper," he said. "I'm always suspect when they talk about reduction of red tape. What they really mean is reduction of services."

Public service experts and former senior bureaucrats say the initiative will be enormously complex, require major information technology improvements, and need the co-operation of entrenched bureaucratic "silos" headed by mandarins reluctant to cede turf.

Conservative MP John Williams, chairman of the public accounts committee that called Ms. Flumian and other gun registry officials to testify at the committee in 2003, said it's fair to raise questions about her background with the gun registry.

"What we're looking for here is a first-class administrator," said Mr. Williams. "She has not demonstrated that she has first-class administration skills."

Ms. Flumian, who declined a request for an interview yesterday, defended her performance at the gun registry while appearing before Mr. Williams' committee in 2003.

She told MPs the Canada Firearms Centre faced challenges but that her efforts led to "substantial results."

Her main goal, she said, was to improve the dismal compliance rate since the registry, enormously unpopular among many rural gun-owners, began operations in 1998.

She boosted the budget, hired more staff, simplified the application forms, ran advertisements, and the efforts was "ultimately a success" by bringing in 1.3 million applications in "just a few months."

But there was a heavy pricetag. The centre's budget during the 2000-2001 fiscal year soared to $200 million, by far the highest in the agency's history.

A senior official in Prime Minister Martin's office said Ms. Flumian is the right person for the job.

"Flumian is a fixer and that's what's needed here. She wasn't responsible for the mess at the gun registry," he said.

"To the contrary, she had the courage and integrity to speak honestly about the challenges the registry was facing and which others had refused to face up to. Honest and effective managers are what we're looking for in government."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005

1 comment:

Jay said...

How hard is it to fire someone in the government? I think it's ridiculous that someone with her track record at mismanaging project cost is being given another chance to screw up royally.

On the other hand, maybe they're hoping she can learn from her lessons at the gun registry.