Another auditor’s report, another litany of concerns

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The government is slow, inefficient and wasteful. The findings in the latest report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson apply to Ottawa, but it’s pretty much the same story for every government across the country, and for every year.

Reports routinely point out that successive governments have ignored the mess and the proscribed remedies year after year.

The 2018 fall reports released last week take on a grab bag of issues, including the Canadian Armed Forces’ efforts to stop inappropriate sexual behavior in the military, National Defence’s ability to manage the risks related to its fighter force, the conservation of national historic sites and heritage buildings, the supervision of offenders released in the community, the access to high-quality Internet services for Canadians in remote and rural areas and an audit to determine whether the Canada Revenue Agency consistently applies rules to taxpayers in similar situations (spoiler alert – it doesn’t).

Government departments are generally found lacking. That much is probably not a surprise to most Canadians, who instinctively know the faults to be true. But the AG is blunt about the self-serving ways of the bureaucracy. It’s something we’ve identified at every level of government: the system is designed to benefit civil servants, not the public they theoretically exist to serve.

There are systemic failures identified year after year, with nothing done in part because the focus is on the administration, not on the outcome. Issues are looked at in isolation rather than as part of a larger breakdown of the bureaucracy. Looking back over years and decades of audits, for instance, puts things in perspective, but apparently the AG’s reports are just put on a shelf to gather dust … after the obligatory hand-wringing following each new release. (The volume of platitudes, thank yous and “we’ll take this to heart” statements from ministers and bureaucrats following the latest report was staggering. Action is likely to be less so.)

Ferguson notes this mindset allows the issues to persist for decades.

If you asked the administrators involved, chances are they’d say they’re doing a great job, in part because they’ve deluded themselves about what the job is about: themselves, not the public. (The politicians always paint a rosy picture about their efforts, even when they know the opposite to be true – it’s one of the reason’s people don’t trust them, or the bureaucrats, for that matter.)

Ferguson’s latest findings – seven reports detailing criticisms of everything from tax collecting to national defence – show a lack of progress on accountability, tracking finances and long delivery times for services. He was particularly scathing in describing the failures related the much-delayed and little-fixed purchase of fighter aircraft.

The Trudeau government balked on the over-hyped and hyper-inflated F-35 stealth fighters, changed the procurement policy, decided to buy new Boeing Super Hornet fighters but cancelled that over a spat caused by U.S. tariffs on Bombardier, then decided to buy 30-year-old surplus CF-18s (the current models here) from Australia. On that $500-million purchase, Ferguson notes there’s been little progress, and even less on dealing with the shortage of pilots and technicians to get them in the air. It’s a problem the military has warned about for years, to no avail.

In other words, business as usual.

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