Want a passport with that EI? /Service Canada-a new disaster in the making?

The Globe and Mail reports that the government is proceeding with the new Service Canada which will offer one-stop shopping for government sevices. It also reports that some critics deride its "executive head," Maryantonett Flumian, because she headed the famously over-budget gun registry. Are we looking at another disaster in the making? I place my bet on Yes. Here's the G&M article:

Want a passport with that EI?

Thursday, September 8, 2005 Updated at 5:11 AM EDT

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Ottawa — The federal government is to launch a new agency this month that will take over most of its direct dealings with the public -- from passport applications to old-age pensions.

The agency, called Service Canada, employs 22,000 people -- making it the second-largest department in the federal government -- and will be officially launched with a promise to save money and provide snappy service to Canadians.

The new agency is an ambitious reorganization of government services only months before an expected federal election. It allows the federal government to promise an improvement in the everyday service it provides to Canadians, although problems with the launch could be embarrassing.

"When you talk to people, they're often frustrated with their interaction with government on the front lines, when it comes to getting a passport or going to a local employment centre to look for what job-skills programs are available," Human Resources Minister Belinda Stronach, who is responsible for Service Canada, said in an interview.

"They want better service, and this is going to bring better service to more Canadians in more communities."

Touted as a "one-stop shop" that will give Canadians a wide variety of services at one office rather than a maze of departments and agencies, Service Canada is actually a broader initiative to simplify and computerize many of the government's internal systems. The plan was announced in the February budget with a claim it will save $2.5-billion over five years.

Boosters say it brings government into the modern era, but critics call it yet another reorganization that will create a new bureaucratic empire and further distance policy-makers from the people who work with citizens.

Service Canada has begun operating as a stand-alone agency inside government, but has yet to announce its new identity or advertise the range of services. It will be launched next week or the week after, government officials said.

"I think it will go a long way to helping rebuild the level of trust that [Canadians] have in government, if we get the front-line services right," Ms. Stronach said. "It may not be perfect, but our aim is to do much better than we have been doing."

The civil-service critics, however, insist it has already become a monster department, the heir to the giant department that Prime Minister Paul Martin split in two when he took office 20 months ago, creating Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Social Development Canada.

Some critics deride its "executive head," Maryantonett Flumian, because she headed the famously over-budget gun registry. Defenders say Ms. Flumian was brought in to fix it after it went wrong, and is an innovator.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Social Development Canada have shrunk from about 12,000 employees each to 1,200. They make the rules for programs, but do not deliver them.

Service Canada will "roll out" new services over several years, Ms. Stronach said. Some of the 322 government offices that used to offer services, including employment insurance applications, have already taken 12,000 passport applications, for example, and will eventually offer almost every government service.

The 322 federal offices will be expanded to more than 600, including provincial offices that will offer federal services, regular fly-in service for remote areas, and even, according to one official, a mobile trailer for the Punjabi and Cantonese communities on the streets of Vancouver.

About 10,000 employees in those offices and in government have already received private-sector-style customer-service training -- titled "How May I Help You?"

But much of the intention behind Service Canada is to shake off some of the inefficiency built up in a sprawling government that still sometimes uses 19th-century methods.

HRSD, for example, still has "death clerks" who scan newspaper death notices to determine whether people receiving benefits have died. Others type in information when families notify Ottawa of a death. But paying clerks to enter data costs money, and the six-month lag time can be expensive for the government, which pays $50-billion a year in pension benefits.

At the same time, individuals have had to notify a dozen federal and provincial departments of a death. Now, the province will be notified and electronically update the federal government.

Much of the service-delivery reorganization will happen through the Internet.

The government's new job site, for example, combines career planning and job-training information with the updated job bank, where a million jobs are expected to be posted this year.

The site allows employment-hunters to get e-mail alerts when a job that matches their qualifications becomes available in their area -- alerts that by next year will also be sent automatically to EI applicants.

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