The audit expected effective consultation and cooperative relationships between IRSAS, SAO and third party service providers, for example claimant counsel, and other federal government departments including corporate service within AANDC.
5.3.1 AANDC Corporate Services (Procurement)
The audit expected to see effective consultation and cooperative relationships between IRSAS, SAO and AANDC CFO Sector relative to procurement.
AANDC CFO Sector provides procurement services support to both SAO and IRSAS. Planning work completed by the audit noted that procurement services were not considered to be a significant risk area from the perspective of SAO Branch, but was a risk area for IRSAS.
IRSAS identified procurement support as a key challenge for IRSAS in providing support to the IAP. The IRSAS Strategic Plan 2013-16 (issued March 22, 2013) noted that "despite having strategies, procedures, and plans in place, we continue to address a set of long-standing corporate challenges that are beyond the Secretariat's control but require collaboration across various sectors of AANDC if progress is to be realized. Management has placed renewed emphasis on human resources and procurement to ensure that the required capacity and services are in place".
IRSAS requires external assistance in support of the IAP from adjudicators, to conduct the hearings and issue decisions, and from lawyers, to provide independent counsel for the Chief Adjudicator and the Secretariat. AANDC Procurement was responsible for providing assistance to the IRSAS to establish the required contracts to have the services in place. However it was recognized by IRSAS and AANDC Procurement that the authority limits for the Adjudicator contracts and legal counsel was not sufficient at AANDCFootnote 4. As a result the procurement support for these contracts requiring renewal and for new external legal counsel contracts was transferred to Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC). IRSAS management indicated that the AANDC procurement group has been very supportive and helpful in assisting IRSAS engage with PWGSC procurement services. The audit did not assess the services being provided by PWGSC, as it is outside of this audit.
5.3.2 AANDC Corporate Services (Human Resources)
The audit expected to see effective consultation and cooperative relationships between IRSAS, SAO and AANDC's Human Resources and Workplace Services Branch (HRWSB) with regards to the provision of Human Resource services.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement stipulates that the Government of Canada is to provide sufficient resources to ensure that IAP claims are processed. This means that both SAO and IRSAS are made up of federal employees, with the delegated authority for staffing flowing from the Deputy Minister of AANDC. Therefore all staffing activities must follow Public Service Commission and departmental processes and procedures, with AANDC's HRWSB providing Human Resource support and advice to both SAO and IRSAS.
The audit planning work completed noted that HR staffing has been a challenge for both SAO and for IRSAS. Staffing has been a consistent and significant risk in particular for IRSAS, who have historically experienced high levels of staff vacancy rates, as high as 30%.
The IAP is a process that must be completed in a timely manner and accordance with the Settlement Agreement. The Completion Strategy submitted to the Supervising Courts December 2013, projects that IAP claims admitted will be resolved by 2017-18 with appropriate infrastructure remaining in place to carry out the functions assigned by the Settlement Agreement.
The fact that both SAO and IRSAS are sunsetting organizations that will wind down as the IAP is completed creates a challenge to attract and retain sufficient staff to meet the supporting services required of the IAP. A key reason for staff turnover within both organizations is staff leaving for permanent jobs (i.e. indeterminate) across the federal government. Interviews noted that this tends to occur more often in centres where there is a large federal government presence with greater opportunities to transfer to another organization, such as in the National Capital Region. Many positions within IRSAS and SAO are staffed with term positions, with a "sunsetting" clause, meaning staff will need to find new employment once the IAP is wound down and their term expires. This creates an incentive for term staff to be constantly looking for other employment with more job security. Compounding these organizational challenges is the nature of the work which can expose staff to details of claimant abuse allegations, which can be very troubling and can create a more difficult working environment than experienced elsewhere.
These HR risks also have significant risks and implications for the Government of Canada and for AANDC in particular. These implications can be contradictory or "at odds". For example Canada must provide sufficient human resource support to the IAP to ensure that all claims get processed, otherwise risking the perception that Canada is not meeting their end of the Settlement Agreement. This must be balanced with the fact that all permanent employees remaining from SAO and IRSAS once the IAP winds down must be absorbed or re-deployed by AANDC, at a time when the Department is looking to streamline its workforce in order to manage within current budgets.
The audit noted that IRSAS and SAO have been engaging with AANDC HRWSB to identify opportunities to alleviate some HR pressures and streamline hiring processes. Most recently, between May to June 2014, IRSAS sought, and received, a number of flexibilities from AANDC's Workplace Management Board (WMB) that would help streamline staffing processes and give the Secretariat more staffing options. These include, for example, approving a number of critical indeterminate positions that can continue to be staffed in that manner, and the ability to launch new staffing processes before the applicable pool is depleted. Also, SAO and IRSAS have both been given an option of extending the expiry of staffing pools for term and indeterminate positions to 2 years, from the standard 1 year. The audit team encourages continued identification and implementation by HRWSB, SAO, and IRSAS, of flexibilities, strategies and initiatives that aim to streamline staffing processes in order to help alleviate some of the HR challenges faced by SAO and IRSAS, while remaining in line with the hiring principles of the Public Service Employment Act.
The audit also noted that SAO, IRSAS and HRWSB are experiencing some difficulties managing these staffing challenges cooperatively. For example, the audit noted delays in the implementation of staffing flexibilities provided to IRSAS by the WMB due to confusion and a delay in agreement on the nature of the decision. It is essential that once staffing initiatives are agreed upon, that they get implemented efficiently and effectively to avoid further staffing delays.
The audit observed that there is no formal agreement, such as a Memorandum of Understanding, between these parties that establishes and clarifies the roles and responsibilities, as well as service standards, related to managing HR staffing processes and the provision or HR advice and guidance. Management from HRWSB, IRSAS, and SAO indicated that a formal agreement such as this would be beneficial. Ideally this agreement would articulate the expectations, roles and responsibilities, and service standards of managing HR processes, as well as detail the specific staffing flexibilities and process deviations available to IRSAS and SAO hiring managers. The objective of the agreement would be to clarify expectations around the provision of HR services by HRWSB and requirements of managers at IRSAS and SAO, as well as to help ensure the accurate and timely implementation of staffing process flexibilities in place to support IRSAS and SAO.
4. The audit recommends that the Director General of HRWSB, Executive Director of IRSAS, and Assistant Deputy Minister of RIA negotiate and implement a formal agreement, such as a Memorandum of Understanding, with regard to HR support services provided by HRWSB. This agreement would clarify the roles and responsibilities and service standards that govern HR staffing, and clarify IAP specific staffing flexibilities.