Executive summary

Context

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC’s) Umbrella Terms and Conditions are used to transfer monies from the federal government to individuals, organizations (e.g., academic institutions, community organizations, non-governmental organizations, international organizations) or other levels of government (e.g., provincial governments), with the purpose of advancing government policy and departmental objectives. While some grants and contributions (Gs&Cs) programs are developed to provide support in very specific program areas or initiatives, this “umbrella” approach supports a wide range of contribution funding programs/initiatives aligned to broad areas or themes within ECCC’s Program Alignment Architecture (PAA) using a single common set of terms and conditions for each of six umbrella authorities. This is intended to simplify the management of contribution funding programs and provide the department with ongoing flexibility to respond in a timely manner to new opportunities by avoiding the need for separate terms and conditions to support each unique contribution funding program/initiative.

ECCC developed Umbrella Terms and Conditions (UTCs) to replace the old system that had four “Class” authorities. Six UTCs, which are contributions only, were approved by Treasury Board in June 2010 with the intent that all contribution programs would eventually use these umbrella authorities. They are as follows:

  • Contributions in support of Biodiversity – Wildlife and Habitat
  • Contributions in support of Water Resources
  • Contributions in support of Sustainable Ecosystems
  • Contributions in support of Weather and Environmental Services for Canadians
  • Contributions in support of Substances and Waste Management
  • Contributions in support of Climate Change and Clean Air

Over half of the department’s contribution agreements are established under one or another of the six umbrella authorities. The UTCs encompass both application-based programs (which have requirements and processes for soliciting and assessing applications for funding) and non-application-based programs (which have no requirement to undergo an application process). The umbrella authorities are ongoing and do not require formal approval to continue.

The purpose of this evaluation was to assess the relevance and performance of the six Umbrella Terms and Conditions in facilitating the achievement of environmental outcomes over the five years from 2010–2011 to 2014–2015. The evaluation was conducted to meet a request of Treasury Board Secretariat and to supplement other evaluations of individual Gs&Cs programs, responding to the requirements of the Financial Administration Act to evaluate all ongoing Gs&Cs programs every five years. The evaluation primarily examined the relevance and performance of projects funded under the UTCs, and these findings were rolled up to draw conclusions about the UTCs overall. In addition, the evaluation incorporated an assessment of the UTC approach as an enabling mechanism for Gs&Cs funding.

Findings and conclusions

Relevance

There is a demonstrated environmental need in each of the program areas covered by the six UTCs, and funded projects are aligned with federal priorities to protect the environment and with departmental strategic outcomes. In addition, the project activities funded under the UTCs are consistent with federal responsibilities specified in legislation such as the Department of the Environment Act. Each funded project is linked to the objectives of an ECCC program and to a departmental strategic outcome and, as such, is compatible with the department’s responsibilities.

Performance – efficiency and economy

The UTCs are sensibly designed in that each UTC is aligned to a PAA program and associated ECCC strategic outcome, and specifies the expected results (see Annex C) to which it is intended to contribute. Also, the contribution agreement for each funded project specifies the applicable UTC expected result(s) the funded activities are intended to support. Additionally, in the view of most program managers interviewed, there is a need for the UTC mechanism as it provides consistency in the funding approach across program areas in the department and flexibility for a timely response to new project opportunities, and it reduces the number of Ts&Cs which management is required to maintain, update and report on. The UTCs appropriately leverage existing department-wide governance mechanisms through a formal ADM Committee on Grants and Contributions, as well as a structured Gs&Cs approvals process with clear roles and responsibilities for both program and Finance managers. The department has detailed guidelines and standardized materials, such as templates for the contribution agreement and final project report, to facilitate effective management of contributions funded under the UTCs. Funding recipients express high levels of satisfaction with key design features of the UTCs Gs&Cs application, funding and reporting processes.

A number of factors suggest that the UTCs support efficient management. For example, the UTC approach supports a wide range of funding programs/initiatives aligned to a PAA program using a single common set of Ts&Cs for each of the six umbrella authorities, resulting in fewer individual Ts&Cs to manage. Efficiency improvements to Gs&Cs in general were made in response to recommendations from a previous evaluation and internal audit, and as part of the department’s earlier Gs&Cs reform process (e.g., development of standardized templates for agreements and project reports, measures to streamline the approvals process). In addition, the department has a systematic process for prioritizing the projects to be supported by Gs&Cs, including those under the UTCs, which should help to ensure that project funds and activities are well targeted. Most funded projects are delivered in collaboration and with leveraged resources from a range of partners. For the file review sample, considering both financial and in-kind contributions, projects were resourced at an average rate of 36% by ECCC and 64% by partners. Survey and file review findings indicate that funding recipients are highly satisfied with the delivery and efficiency of UTC contribution programs; however, the timeliness of the notification and receipt of funding is a concern for some.

Performance information is collected and provided in the department’s standard final project reporting template for most, though not all, projects funded under the UTCs. Project reports focus primarily on the degree of completion of funded project activities and outputs, as opposed to achievement of environmental outcomes. The department’s Corporate Services and Finance Branch maintains a Gs&Cs database which focuses on the financial aspects of funded projects, but the department has no overall management system that consolidates project performance data. Each UTC specifies expected results and associated performance indicators, and each contribution agreement includes at least one of these expected results; however, the evaluation found no evidence of performance reporting against these UTC expected results and indicators.

Performance – effectiveness

Projects funded under the UTCs appear to be making a contribution to environmental outcomes. The evaluation findings suggest that the planned activities and intended short-term outcomes of funded projects are for the most part being achieved, though evidence for the latter is limited to the views expressed in interviews with program managers and a survey of funding recipients. In addition, file review and survey evidence suggests that projects are making a contribution to the applicable UTC expected results; however, due to a lack of objective performance data it is not possible to draw definitive conclusions on this point. There have been no unintended outcomes of the UTC mechanism.

Recommendation

The evaluation found no evidence of performance reporting against the UTC expected results and indicators. To support current efforts in the department to develop or refine program performance indicators for Performance Information Profiles (PIPs),Footnote 1 the expected results and indicators in the UTCs should be reviewed and considered for inclusion as part of measurement strategies for Gs&Cs in the applicable program areas. This would help to improve the available performance information on the effectiveness of Gs&Cs under the umbrella authorities in contributing to program outcomes. In addition, the evaluation noted that for a significant number of the contribution projects and files examined, the recipients’ final project reports were not available.

The following recommendation is based on the findings and conclusions of the evaluation. The recommendation is directed to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Corporate Services and Finance Branch, as the senior official functionally responsible for the Treasury Board Policy on Results and for Gs&Cs, including the UTCs.

In consultation with the ADMs responsible for the related programs, review the performance measurement and reporting process for Gs&Cs under the UTCs in order to help ensure that

  • a) UTC expected results are considered as part of the development of the corresponding Performance Information Profiles under the new TB Policy on Results; and
  • b) UTC contribution project files are fully documented and include the funding recipients’ final project or contribution reports.

The ADM Corporate Services and Finance Branch agrees with the recommendation and has developed a management response that appropriately addresses it (see section 6 of the report).

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