Audit of the Priority Administration Program

September 2016

Table of contents

Executive summary

Objective

The objective of this audit was to determine whether the Public Service Commission (PSC) effectively carried out its responsibilities under the Priority Appointment Policy and the Priority Administration Directive, and pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Employment Regulations (PSER).

Audit scope

The audit assessed the operations and practices of the PSC's Priority Administration Program for activities conducted by the Policy Branch and the Staffing and Assessment Services Branch during Fiscal Year (FY) 2012-2013 and FY 2013-2014.

The scope of the audit did not cover the hiring practices of organizations subject to the PSEA and the PSER with respect to persons with a priority entitlement. The scope of the audit also excluded the responsibilities of persons with a priority entitlement and new priority entitlements not yet legislated as of March 31, 2014. Lastly, the scope of the audit did not cover the PSC's Priority Information Management System (PIMS) business logic.

Why this is important

The goal of the audit of the Priority Administration Program is to provide senior management with an independent assessment of the PSC's Priority Administration Program (Program).

Priority entitlements help persons cope with career transitions due to various life and employment events such as workforce adjustment, becoming disabled, returning from extended leave or relocating with one's spouse or common-law partner. The entitlements also help the employer retain skilled employees during periods of workforce adjustment.

The results of the audit may be used to improve the governance, risk management and internal controls for managing persons with a priority entitlement as well as the monitoring of the Program's performance.

Audit conclusion

Overall, the Public Service Commission effectively carried out its responsibilities under the Priority Appointment Policy and the Priority Administration Directive, pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act and the Public Service Employment Regulations. However, some areas could be improved to help increase the effectiveness of the Priority Administration Program. The audit also found inefficiencies in the essential qualifications matching process.

Key observations

We found that:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the Priority Administration Program stakeholders were defined and communicated and decision-making mechanisms were in place.
  • A risk management process was in place but was limited in scope.
  • Controls were in place in the registration process of persons with a priority entitlement in the Priority Information Management System. However, the audit did not find monitoring in place over the Manager's Attestation Form.
  • The PSC developed tools to support home organizations, hiring managers, human resources specialists and persons with a priority entitlement in the administration of priorities.
  • Persons with a priority entitlement were referred in a timely manner but the matching process was not efficient.
  • Priority clearance numbers were issued in compliance with the Priority Administration Directive. However, we found insufficient controls over the use of clearance numbers by hiring organizations and over section 43 of the Public Service Employment Act.
  • The PSC had controls in place to validate priority entitlements and to ensure organizations' respect for those entitlements when appointing persons with a priority entitlement.
  • The PSC had a process in place to resolve issues by working with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to find solutions. However, complaints filed by persons with a priority entitlement and their resolution were not tracked.
  • Program performance indicators and a service standard were in place and were monitored.

Recommendations

  1. The PSC should periodically identify, assess, respond to, communicate and monitor operational risks to the Program.
  2. The PSC should implement a control mechanism that allows it to monitor the completion of the Manager's Attestation Form.
  3. The PSC should review the screening and referral processes and study the causes for non-responses to referrals to improve the matching of persons with a priority entitlement to job opportunities.
  4. The PSC should implement a control mechanism to ensure that clearance numbers are used only in cases for which they were issued and when they can be applied.
  5. The PSC should review its approach to monitoring the usage of clearance requests invoking section 43 of the PSEA by hiring organizations.
  6. The PSC should maintain a record to track priority entitlement issues, the measures taken and the timeliness of the resolution.

Statement of Assurance

This audit engagement conforms to the Internal Auditing Standards for the Government of Canada, as supported by the results of a quality assurance and improvement program.

John Corbeil, CIA
Chief Audit and Evaluation Executive
Public Service Commission

Introduction

Background

1. Persons with a priority entitlement are individuals who are legally entitled under the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Employment Regulations (PSER) to be appointed, in priority to all others, to positions for which they meet the essential qualifications. Refer to Appendix A for types of priority entitlements.

2. The Public Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for administering and overseeing the provisions of the PSEA and the PSER regarding priority entitlements and the monitoring of staffing practices in relation to the legislative framework for persons with a priority entitlement through the Priority Administration Program (Program). The Program is administered by Priority Administration advisors (PAA).

3. The Program contributes to meeting the staffing needs of the public service while ensuring retention of the valuable knowledge, skills and experience of its employees, in which the public service has already invested. Persons with a priority entitlement are a resourcing option and their consideration is part of the staffing process where organizations must consider such persons before making an appointment. While many staffing authorities have been delegated to organizations, Priority Administration (PA) is a component of the staffing process that remains within the PSC's area of responsibility.

4. There are different priority entitlements prescribed by the PSEA and the PSER, as listed in Appendix A. Priority entitlements within the PSEA are referred to as “statutory priorities”. There were 843 persons with statutory priorities as of March 31, 2014. Persons with a statutory priority entitlement are appointed, in priority to all others, to positions for which they meet the essential qualifications. The priority entitlements within the PSER are referred to as “regulatory priorities”. There were 1,397 persons with regulatory priorities as of March 31, 2014. Persons with a regulatory priority are appointed after persons with a statutory priority.

5. The PSC conducted an evaluation of the Program in 2011 and issued seven recommendations (Appendix B). We noted that the Management Response and Action Plan had been closed in September 2013, after addressing the recommendations.

6. The Program was selected for audit in the 2014-2015 Risk-based Audit and Evaluation Plan as a result of a risk assessment of the PSC audit universe.

Audit objective

7. The objective of this audit was to determine whether the PSC effectively carried out its responsibilities under the Priority Appointment Policy and the Priority Administration Directive and pursuant to the PSEA and the PSER.

Audit scope

8. The audit assessed the operations and practices of the PSC's Program for activities conducted by the Policy Branch and the Staffing and Assessment Services Branch during Fiscal Year (FY) 2012-2013 and FY 2013-2014. This period covered a higher volume of priorities due to the Deficit Reduction Action Plan.

9. The scope of the audit did not cover the hiring practices of organizations subject to the PSEA and PSER with respect to persons with a priority entitlement. The scope of the audit also excluded the responsibilities of persons with a priority entitlement and new priority entitlements not yet legislated as of March 31, 2014. Finally, the scope of the audit did not cover the PSC's Priority Information Management System (PIMS).

About the audit

10. The audit team developed audit criteria, listed in Appendix C, in order to conclude against the audit objective. The audit team gathered evidence using the following methods:

  • Interviews with management and staff;
  • Walk-through of key processes;
  • File reviews and analysis of documents, including system-generated reports; and
  • Testing of controls.

11. Evidence was reviewed and assessed for sufficiency, reliability, relevancy and usefulness. The audit team measured the systems and practices of the PSC against the pre-defined and agreed upon audit criteria developed, based on the Acts, Policies and Directives listed in Appendix D.

12. The audit was conducted in accordance with the Internal Auditing Standards for the Government of Canada and was subject to internal and independent quality reviews.

Sampling methodology

13. The sampling of cases was used to test controls in the following aspects of the Program:

  • Registration of priorities;
  • Referrals and feedback;
  • Priority clearance requests;
  • Priority appointments;
  • Auto-clearances; and
  • Section 43 of the PSEA.

14. In these tests, a random sample of cases was selected to reflect a confidence level of 90%, an expected error rate of 20% and a confidence interval of +/- 10%.

Observations and recommendations

Governance

The roles and responsibilities of the Priority Administration Program stakeholders were defined and communicated and decision-making mechanisms were in place.

15. We expected that roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and procedures for the Priority Administration Program (Program) would be defined and communicated and that there would be policies, guidance and training in place for the administration of priorities.

Roles and responsibilities were defined and communicated

16. We found that roles and responsibilities of the Program were defined in the Priority Administration Directive (Directive) and in the Public Service Commission Guide on Priority Administration (Guide). The purpose of these documents was to specify the roles and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission (PSC), hiring organizations under the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and persons with a priority entitlement in the administration of priority entitlements. These documents were available on the PSC's website and the guidance was communicated through tutorials, quick reference guides, demo videos and Public Service Information Management System (PIMS) Newsletters.

17. The PSC is responsible for administering and overseeing the provisions of the PSEA and the PSER regarding priority entitlements through the Program.

18. During the scope of the audit, the management of the Program was under the Staffing and Assessment Services Branch (SASB). The Policy Branch was responsible for policy development, interpretation, case management and functional guidance to SASB operations. SASB was responsible for program activities such as processing of clearance requests, liaison with departments and agencies and monitoring. In March 2015, the Program was transferred to the Policy Branch.

19. The Information Technology Services Directorate (ITSD) provided support for PIMS by solving software-related technical problems, implementing modifications and providing overall system support.

20. The PSC is responsible for overseeing adherence to the roles and responsibilities and for supporting organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to address any issues at an early stage.

A decision-making mechanism and an escalation process for the Priority Information Management System was in place

21. Weekly meetings were held between the Delegation and Accountability Directorate (DAD) in the Policy Branch, the Client Services Directorate of SASB and ITSD of the Corporate Management Branch. These meetings have been used as part of an escalation process and a decision-making mechanism for PIMS since November 2013. Records of these meetings were documented, including attendance and action items. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss system issues and upcoming changes and releases to PIMS, such as new priority entitlement codes, system testing and required demonstrations and system maintenance items. PIMS issues were documented in a defect-tracking system used by DAD and ITSD and enabled both parties to keep track of resolved and outstanding PIMS issues.

There were policies, guidance and training in place for the administration of priorities

22. We found that the PSC developed policies and guidance for organizations in managing persons with a priority entitlement. The PSC is also responsible for setting and maintaining PIMS that must be used by all organizations as well as the Priority Portal, which was implemented by the PSC in 2012. The Portal is a web-based application linked to PIMS that is used by persons with a priority entitlement for the purpose of viewing, adding or updating personal information in their priority profile.

23. The audit found that a Policy Interpretation Library was developed by DAD to ensure consistency in the work performed by the Program and the Priority Administration advisors (PAAs) as well as in the standing operational procedures on the various processes performed or monitored by the PAAs. Training was provided to all new PAAs and was based on the Guide.

Risk management

A risk management process was in place but was limited in scope.

24. We expected that the PSC would have a formal risk assessment process, where corporate and operational risks related to the Program would be identified, assessed, mitigated and monitored. The Framework for Risk Management established by the Treasury Board Secretariat sets the expectations for risk management in the government. Risk management involves a systematic approach to identifying, assessing, mitigating and monitoring risks so as to inform decision making and improve organizational performance. Additionally, an internal audit activity must evaluate the effectiveness and contribute to the improvement of risk management processes.

25. The annual integrated business planning process for FY 2013-2014 at the PSC incorporated a risk management process that identified and assessed corporate risks. These corporate risks were summarized and presented in the FY 2013-2014 PSC Risk Registry that identified one risk for the Program. The Registry was approved by the Executive Management Committee and communicated in the Report on Plans and Priorities. The risk indicated that the PSC might not be able to process the increased volume of persons with a priority entitlement in the Program. The Registry stated that this risk could impact the PSC's ability to support organizations as they move forward with workforce adjustment and that it could affect the PSC's ability to ensure that the rights of affected employees are respected. This risk was assessed to be low in probability but high in impact and deemed to be both an internal and an external risk.

26. As a response to the identified risk, the following risk mitigation strategies were proposed:

  • Reallocating resources to support any further changes in volume;
  • Preparing and conducting additional extensive consultations on policy and system changes;
  • Ongoing management of the enhanced priority appointment policy framework, with related system improvements;
  • Improving communication to ensure the appointment of persons with a priority entitlement;
  • Strengthening internal infrastructure for people and systems;
  • Reviewing work processes to identify efficiencies and response times for increased workload;
  • Re-aligning IT resources, as needed, to ensure continued support for PIMS; and
  • Ensuring the Business Continuity Strategy is in place.

27. We found that several of these mitigation strategies were implemented in FY 2012-2013, including the development of the Directive and the revision of the Guide, the creation of the Executive Workforce Steering Committee, the PIMS Priority Portal and the Priority Administration Community of Practice, re-aligning human resources, conducting training, quality assurance reviews and testing of PIMS during transformation. We did not find ongoing monitoring of this corporate risk.

28. Although there was a process in place to identify, assess, and mitigate the corporate risk, we found that the process did not extend to more operational risks, such as those related to the Program's business processes.

29. The audit did find that an escalation process was in place to respond to emerging operational issues. Weekly meetings were held between SASB and DAD in the Policy Branch and policy issues were escalated to the director general of DAD when needed. We also found that PIMS-related operational issues were discussed at weekly meetings and that PIMS maintenance issues were tracked and given an order of priority for future PIMS releases.

30. Together, these efforts to manage issues can enhance an organization's ability to respond in an appropriate manner. However, these do not constitute a forward-thinking approach to risk management that focuses on risk mitigation. Rather, they focus on issues in a reactive manner. By establishing a proactive and systematic risk assessment process at an operational level, the Program could improve its ability to not only respond to issues as they emerge, but to also identify, assess, mitigate and monitor new or evolving risks to its operations. Such a process also enables more effective, risk-informed decision-making and improved program performance.

31. We note that the risk management process within the annual PSC integrated business planning process has evolved since 2013 to identify risks from the corporate level down to the program level.

Recommendation 1:

  • The PSC should periodically identify, assess, respond to, communicate and monitor operational risks to the Program.

Registration of persons with a priority entitlement

Controls were in place in the registration process of persons with a priority entitlement in the Priority Information Management System. However, the audit did not find monitoring in place over the Manager's Attestation Form.

32. We expected that controls would be in place to confirm and monitor the registration of persons with a priority entitlement in PIMS.

Controls were in place to confirm the validity of priority entitlements

33. The audit examined the process and controls in place to confirm and monitor the registration of persons with a priority entitlement in PIMS.

34. The Directive states that the PSC will confirm the validity of priority entitlements and registration in PIMS. The audit found that there were appropriate controls in place in the registration process of persons with a priority entitlement in PIMS, as there are mandatory sections that have to be completed by both the home organization and the person with a priority entitlement, including mandatory sections on the personal information of the person with a priority entitlement, the type of priority entitlement, the home organization, linguistic profile, group and level, professional qualifications, education, mobility and résumé of the person with a priority entitlement.

35. For a sample of 43 registrations tested, we found that all persons with a priority entitlement registered in PIMS during FY 2013-2014 were eligible for the priority entitlement and worked for an eligible organization under the PSEA.

A registration process was in place and was followed by the Priority Administration advisors

36. The Directive states that the PSC will oversee organizations' adherence to the Priority Administration Policy, Directive, Guides and procedures at operational levels. This includes monitoring organizations' respect for priority entitlements and, more specifically, confirming the validity of priority entitlements and registration in PIMS and monitoring coding and other information entered in PIMS to ensure accurate referrals.

37. The audit found that a verification process over the registration of a person with a priority entitlement was implemented by the Program, where a procedure had been developed specifically for the PAAs. This procedure includes instructions to verify nine different areas of a new registration: The person's personal information, the person's home organization, priority type and classification, the linguistic profile of the person, recommended groups and levels, occupational groups and experience codes, the professional qualifications and education of the person, mobility, the person's résumé and additional information and availability of the person.

38. In addition, we found that the Program had implemented a Quality Assurance Program in December 2013 that included a review process for registrations. The objective of the Quality Assurance Program was to ensure accuracy, consistency, timeliness and compliance with Priority Administration standards and practices in order to reach the following outcomes: Priority entitlements are protected, errors are limited and/or are detected quickly, improvements are timely and the credibility and reliability of the Program are enhanced.

No active monitoring was performed over the completion of the Manager's Attestation Form

39. A Manager's Attestation Form must be completed by the home organization prior to the registration of any person with a priority entitlement in PIMS, except for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police released for medical reasons and surviving spouses. The form is an attestation that the home organization would be prepared to appoint an employee with a priority entitlement to a suitable position in that organization for which they meet the essential qualifications, if such a position were available. The form is mandatory but does not need to be provided to the PSC. It is the responsibility of the home organization to keep it on file and it is not shared with hiring organizations. The PSC retains the right to request the form to verify its content and completeness. The Program intentionally uses a trust-based approach with the intention of reducing the administrative burden on home organizations.

40. Program staff informed us that, in the event where a manager refuses to complete the form, it is often due to labour relations issues. When a priority person is not registered in PIMS, they can only self-refer and they remain the home organization's responsibility. The PSC will refer priority persons who demonstrate significant performance, incapacity or discipline issues solely to the home organization.

41. The audit found, however, that a registration can be completed and activated without the Manager's Attestation Form being completed, despite the requirement to do so. In addition, the audit did not find evidence of active monitoring over the completion of the Manager's Attestation Form. The program would only request the form when a situation warrants it, such as when a person with a priority entitlement is continuously subject to negative references from their home organization. Using this approach, the Program is unable to readily verify and monitor that Manager's Attestation Forms are completed and, by extension, the validity of the registration in PIMS.

Recommendation 2:

  • The PSC should implement a control mechanism that allows it to monitor the completion of the Manager's Attestation Form.

Client support

The PSC developed tools to support home organizations, hiring managers, human resources specialists and persons with a priority entitlement in the administration of priorities.

42. We expected that the PSC would have controls in place to ensure that all stakeholders are effectively supported in the administration of priorities.

43. The audit examined the information provided to persons with a priority entitlement, to home organizations and to hiring managers. The audit also examined the tools developed by the Program and conducted interviews.

Tools and information on the Program were in place

44. We found that the PSC provided readily available tools and information on the administration of priorities to persons with a priority entitlement, to home organizations, to human resources specialists and to hiring managers via their PIMS Support Centre, including information on the Directive and the Guide.

45. Communication with the Program for additional information or clarification on questions related to the administration of persons with a priority entitlement was achieved through various channels, including using the contact information provided in the PIMS Support Centre, a toll-free telephone number to reach a PAA, an email address and a link to the list of PAAs assigned to organizations. Organizations and persons with a priority entitlement could also reach the Program via its main website, where contact information intended for organizations and persons with a priority entitlement is displayed.

46. Other information could also be found on the site, including frequently asked questions on the Guide, questions about PIMS, the PIMS feedback form and other feedback, technical questions about PIMS, questions on accessing the Priority Portal and cyber authentication and questions and answers for managers about the Directive.

The Public Service Commission supported organizations in the administration of priorities

47. We found that the PSC sent a series of letters to heads of human resources in FY 2012-2013 and FY 2013-2014 as the PSC introduced new initiatives and a new policy direction. These letters communicated changes to PIMS in a timely manner, prior to the majority of changes being implemented and contributed to ensuring that organizations were effectively supported in the administration of priorities.

48. In addition, the PSC created a Priority Administration Community of Practice (PAC) in 2012 in an effort to enhance the Program's collaboration with organizations and to support the administration of priorities. In FY 2013-2014, the PSC hosted five meetings with the PAC in order to provide participating organizations with information on the Directive, the Policy and the various supporting tools, PIMS enhancements, entitlements, emerging issues, Priority Administration contacts and to answer questions from participating organizations. The implementation of the PAC by the PSC contributed to ensuring that clients were supported in the administration of priorities, namely through cyclical presentations and information-sharing sessions. PAC meeting materials were available in both official languages.

Screening and referral of persons with a priority entitlement

Persons with a priority entitlement were referred in a timely manner but the matching process was not efficient.

49. We expected that the PSC would have controls in place to ensure that persons with a priority entitlement were effectively screened and referred in a timely manner and in order of precedence.

50. During the scope of the audit, prior to initiating any appointment process, organizations needed to obtain priority clearance from the PSC, with certain limited exceptions. Organizations needed to first consider persons with a priority entitlement, including those who were registered in PIMS. When the organization had done so, a priority clearance number was issued, allowing the organization to proceed with the appointment of a priority person or another appointment process.

51. The Directive states that the PSC will conduct preliminary screening of persons with a priority entitlement against education and experience criteria and refer persons with a priority entitlement to vacant positions for which they may be qualified.

52. We found that screening is based on a match between the experience and education qualifications of a person with a priority entitlement and what is required for a job referral. For experience qualifications, hiring organizations enter codes that most closely match the original Statement of Merit Criteria (SoMC) for the job opportunity. PIMS automatically screens on a maximum of two experience codes. With regard to education qualifications, Program staff noted that it was not feasible to identify codes specific to education as part of the screening criteria. Many job referrals seek an acceptable combination of education and experience. As such, there are too many variables to make the education a definitive and reliable screening criterion.

53. The PAAs have to manually review all referrals screened by PIMS to monitor the accuracy of the referrals against the SoMC and the prescribed educational requirements. The audit found that this manual process led to human error in some of the transactions tested, where the résumé of the person referred did not match the experience required by the SoMC in six of the referrals tested. However, for all the referrals tested, the person referred did meet the educational requirements prescribed in the SoMC.

Persons with a priority entitlement were referred in a timely manner

54. The audit examined a total of 43 persons with a priority entitlement referred to an appointment process to determine the number of days it took for the Program to process a clearance request form and refer potential candidates. Of these 43 referrals, 16 were self-referred by the person with a priority entitlement. For the remaining 27 referrals, the average number of business days between the date the clearance request was received by the Program and the date a person with a priority entitlement was referred was 5 business days. This met the standards in place during the scope of audit that required that the review of a priority clearance request, including the pre-screening and referral of a person, be performed within five business days of receiving a request.

The essential qualifications matching process was not efficient

55. We found that in 34.5% of referrals, the priority referrals did not result in a match. As illustrated in Table 1, 5,581 of the 52,695 persons with a priority entitlement referred in FY 2013-2014 were given a feedback result of “Failed Essential Qualifications” by the hiring organization, which meant that the referral did not meet the essential qualifications prescribed in the SoMC and 263 referrals were given a feedback result of “Failed Education”. Another 12,326 persons with a priority entitlement withdrew from the process after being referred because they indicated they did not meet the essential qualifications prescribed in the SoMC.

56. The referrals resulted in even fewer matches, when considering non-responses to referrals. The audit found, in addition to the cases cited above, that 15,489 persons with a priority entitlement (29%) did not respond to referrals within the allotted timeframe. The specific causes for the non-responses are unknown and are beyond the reach of this audit. Determining the cause of these non-responses could potentially lead to greater referral matches.

Table 1: Referral Feedback Results
Referral Feedback Results Volume for FY 2013-2014 % of Total Referrals (of 52,695 requests)
Failed Essential Qualification 5,581 11%
Failed Education 263 0.5%
Essential Qualification – Priority Person's Decision 12,326 23%
No Response from Priority
Person within the Allotted Timeframe
15,489 29%

57. The impact of having a manual process to verify the accuracy of the essential qualifications of the referred persons can lead to error. Furthermore, by using the current matching process, hiring organizations may not be given all the required parameters to clearly define their staffing needs in PIMS and, as a result, this can lead to inefficiency in the matching process.

Recommendation 3:

  • The PSC should review the screening and referral processes and study the causes for non-responses to referrals to improve the matching of persons with a priority entitlement to job opportunities.

Priority clearance numbers

Priority clearance numbers were issued in compliance with the Priority Administration Directive. However, we found insufficient controls over the use of clearance numbers by hiring organizations and over section 43 of the Public Service Employment Act.

58. We expected that the PSC would issue priority clearance numbers in compliance with the Directive, refer additional persons with a priority entitlement when required, review all requests for priority clearance for accuracy and completeness and monitor organizations' respect for priority entitlements.

Priority clearance numbers were issued in compliance with the Directive

59. The Directive states that the PSC will issue a priority clearance number, allowing an organization to make an appointment under the following conditions: When a priority person is to be appointed to a position, when a priority person has been found to meet the essential qualifications of a position but has refused the appointment, when the appointment of a priority person would result in another person having a priority entitlement, when there are no persons with a priority entitlement identified by PIMS who would potentially meet the essential qualifications of the position or when no persons with a priority entitlement referred or self-referred are found to meet the essential qualifications of a position.

60. PIMS was designed so that a clearance number is automatically issued when a clearance request submitted by a hiring organization does not result in any matches with a registered person with a priority entitlement in PIMS or when a hiring organization is invoking section 43 of the PSEA. The Program established a 48-hour waiting period for these auto-clearances, during which time hiring organizations cannot use these clearance numbers for appointment purposes. This period of time is used by the Program to monitor priority requests submitted by hiring organizations subject to auto-clearances.

61. For a sample of 40 clearance requests tested, we found that a priority clearance number was issued in compliance with the Directive and was documented for all clearance requests tested.

The Program had mechanisms in place to review clearance requests for accuracy and completeness and refer additional persons

62. The Directive states that the PSC will review all requests for priority clearance for accuracy and completeness, including requests for auto-clearance and term appointments.

63. A clearance request review process was in place and was performed by the Program prior to issuing a clearance number to hiring organizations. In cases of auto-clearances, addressed in the section below, the review process is expected to be performed by a PAA within 48 hours following the automatic issuance of a clearance number.

64. We found that the Program also had a manual process in place to refer additional persons with a priority entitlement after a priority clearance number has been issued but before an appointment is made to the position. PAAs contact the hiring organization by email and suspend the clearance request until the referred priority is assessed and the feedback is provided by the hiring organization. This process is not automatic and normally occurs when a person with a priority entitlement has expressed an interest in a position and has contacted the Program to that effect.

There were no controls in place to ensure the authorized application of clearance numbers

65. We found that, once the Program issued a priority clearance number to a hiring organization, there was no control mechanism to ensure that the clearance number was used for the correct position number, tenure and group and level of the position(s) identified in the initial clearance request of the hiring organization. With the absence of a control, there is a risk that priority clearances are not used as intended by hiring organizations and this could have an impact on the consideration of persons with a priority entitlement. External staffing audits of organizations conducted by the PSC have found cases where this risk of improper use has materialized.

Clearance numbers issued following an auto-clearance were not sufficiently monitored

66. When an auto-clearance is granted to a hiring organization, PAAs monitor the different search criteria of a request (position classification, experience codes, language requirements, position location, etc.) and verify their accuracy to ensure that priority entitlements are protected. Incorrect search criteria selected by the organization can impact adversely on the consideration of persons with priority entitlements.

67. The audit found evidence of monitoring for 21 of the 43 auto-clearance requests tested. For the auto-clearance requests that were deemed acceptable, we were informed that the correspondence was not tracked. In 13 of the 21 cases, monitoring was conducted within the prescribed 48 hours.

68. Furthermore, the audit found that for three of the 43 auto-clearances tested, an appointment was made prior to the auto-clearance date. The hiring organization therefore did not wait two working days after receiving an auto-clearance before making the appointment, as prescribed by the Directive. Furthermore, for one of the 43 auto-cleared requests tested, the request was cancelled by the PSC but an appointment was made by the hiring organization prior to its cancellation and, for another auto-cleared request tested, the request was cancelled by the PSC but an appointment was made by the hiring organization after its cancellation.

69. By issuing clearance numbers automatically, there is a risk that appointments will be made prior to the auto-clearance being verified by the PSC and lead to persons with a priority entitlement not being considered before an appointment is made.

Recommendation 4:

  • The PSC should implement a control mechanism to ensure that clearance numbers are used only in cases for which they were issued and when they can be applied.

There was a risk of misuse of the clearance requests invoking section 43 of the Public Service Employment Act

70. Section 43 of the PSEA states that the PSC may consider not appointing a person with a priority entitlement if this appointment will result in another person having a priority entitlement. According to the Guide, if an organization intends to invoke section 43, it must clearly explain the reasons in detail when submitting its request for priority clearance and ensure that the appointment file is clearly documented. The PSC may require the organization to provide supporting documentation as evidence.

71. The audit found that a procedure was developed by DAD with the intent of guiding PAAs in the review of these clearance requests to ensure consistency in the practice. There were 438 service requests in FY 2013-2014 invoking section 43 of the PSEA. The audit found that a clearance number was automatically issued by PIMS following a clearance request submitted by a hiring organization invoking section 43 of the PSEA.

72. The audit found that for all 39 tested clearance requests invoking section 43 of the PSEA, that an explanation was provided in PIMS by the hiring organization. However, there was no documentation to support the explanation. By not requesting supporting documents to invoke section 43, there is a risk that the PAA may not have sufficient information to determine whether the appointment of a person who has a right to be appointed in priority to other persons under any of the applicable provisions will result in another person having a priority entitlement. Furthermore, by not documenting the communication with the hiring organizations invoking section 43, there is no evidence of the review performed by the PAA over section 43, as the requests are automatically cleared by PIMS.

73. Not verifying supporting documentation for clearance requests invoking section 43 of the PSEA could lead to the risk of misuse of section 43 and facilitate the deliberate avoidance of consideration of persons with a priority entitlement.

Recommendation 5:

  • The PSC should review its approach to monitoring the usage of clearance requests invoking section 43 of the PSEA by hiring organizations.

Priority appointments

The PSC had controls in place to validate priority entitlements and to ensure organizations' respect for those entitlements when appointing persons with a priority entitlement.

74. We expected that the PSC would effectively monitor the validity of priority entitlements and organizations' respect for those entitlements when appointing persons with a priority entitlement, including order of precedence.

Priority appointments were made in compliance with the Directive

75. The Directive states that the PSC will issue a priority clearance number, allowing an organization to make an appointment when a priority person is to be appointed to a position and that the PSC will monitor the validity of persons with a priority entitlement and organizations' respect for those entitlements when appointing persons with a priority entitlement.

76. Forty-one appointments of persons with a priority entitlement were tested. Eighteen of the 41 appointments resulted from a priority referral and 23 appointments resulted from a self-referral by the person with a priority entitlement. For all 18 priority appointments resulting from a referral, the appointment was the person with the highest priority entitlement referred to the hiring organization. For all 41 priority appointments tested, the person's priority entitlement was valid at the time of appointment.

77. The audit found that monitoring over priority appointments was first performed by a PAA when a person had qualified in order to ensure that the order of precedence of priority entitlements was respected. A second level of monitoring was performed after the issuance of a clearance number to ensure that the start date identified in the letter of offer was after the date the clearance number was issued.

Resolution of priority entitlement issues

The PSC had a process in place to resolve issues by working with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to find solutions. However, complaints filed by persons with a priority entitlement and their resolution were not tracked.

78. We expected that the PSC would have a process in place to resolve issues by working with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to find solutions.

A process to resolve issues with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement was in place

79. The Guide defines the roles and responsibilities of the hiring organization, the PSC and the Treasury Board Secretariat, when resolving concerns and problems related to priority entitlements. The PSC remains responsible for reviewing any concerns and issues regarding a specific appointment and, if discussions with the hiring organization do not resolve an issue, concerned persons may turn to the PSC for assistance on matters within its jurisdiction. The Guide also specifies that the PSC is responsible for reviewing any concerns or issues regarding a specific appointment. We found that DAD had a process in place to resolve issues by working with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to find solutions.

Complaints filed by persons with a priority entitlement were not tracked

80. We found that the program documented correspondence related to the more problematic cases and complains requiring follow-up actions. However, there was no tracking mechanism of complaints filed by persons with a priority entitlement during the scope of the audit. This could lead to a lack of documentation of a case that could potentially become contentious. It could also lead to inconsistent or untimely resolution of similar priority entitlement issues.

Recommendation 6:

  • The PSC should maintain a record to track priority entitlement issues, the measures taken and the timeliness of the resolution.

Monitoring of the Program's performance

Program performance indicators and a service standard were in place and were monitored.

81. We expected that the Program's performance and implementation of the Policy, Directive and service standards would be monitored on a regular basis for continuous improvement.

Performance indicators were in place

82. In addition to the monitoring of the implementation of the Policy and Directive already covered in this report, the audit examined the monitoring of the overall performance of the Program. The audit found that the PSC's Reports on Plans and Priorities for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 identified performance indicators for the Program, with targets as follows:

  • Number of persons with priority rights appointed to positions for which they meet the essential qualifications;
  • Number of organizations in which staffing practices are found to be inconsistent with the PSEA and PSC Policies and Regulations; and
  • Priority Administration, guidance, tools, outreach activities and referrals of high quality and supporting the placement of persons with a priority entitlement.

The audit found that the PSC reported progress against these indicators in the Departmental Performance Report.

83. In addition to overall performance indicators for the Program, the audit found a service standard was in place in FY 2014-2015, after the scope of the audit. The Program established a service standard of five business days for the referral of persons with a priority entitlement, which is calculated based on the time required for the Program to review a priority clearance request, pre-screen and refer persons with a priority entitlement within five business days of receiving a request.

Audit conclusion

Overall, the Public Service Commission effectively carried out its responsibilities under the Priority Appointment Policy and the Priority Administration Directive, pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act and the Public Service Employment Regulations. However, some areas could be improved to help increase the effectiveness of the Priority Administration Program. The audit also found inefficiencies in the essential qualifications matching process.

Appendix A — Priority types

The priority entitlements within the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) are referred to as “statutory priorities”. Persons with a statutory priority are appointed ahead of all others, in the following order:

  1. As of July 2015, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members released for medical reasons attributable to service as determined by Veterans Affairs Canada (PSEA, sub-section 39.1(1)). All CAF members, including regular force, reserve force and special force are eligible.
  2. An organization's own surplus employees who have been informed by their deputy head that their services are no longer required, but before any lay-off becomes effective.
  3. Leave of absence: Employees on leave of absence, where their positions have been staffed indeterminately, or the employees who replaced them on an indeterminate basis if they are displaced when the employee returns from leave.
  4. Lay-offs: Persons who have been laid off due to a lack of work, the discontinuance of a function or the transfer of work or a function outside the public service.

The priority entitlements within the Public Service Employment Regulations (PSER) are referred to as “regulatory priorities”. Persons with a regulatory priority are appointed after persons with a statutory priority, but in no relative order.

  • Surplus employees: Employees from other organizations who have been advised by their deputy head that their services are no longer required, but before any lay-off becomes effective;
  • Employees who become disabled: Employees who become disabled and who, as a result of the disability, are no longer able to carry out the duties of their position;
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP): Certain members discharged for medical reasons;
  • Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members: Certain members released for medical reasons (PSER, section 8). Only members of the regular force, the special force and the reserve force on Class B service of 180 days or more or on Class C reserve service are eligible;
  • Relocation of spouse or common-law partner: Indeterminate employees who have been granted leave for such relocations and whose positions have not been staffed indeterminately;
  • Reinstatement: Certain persons with a priority entitlement who were appointed or deployed to a position in the public service at a lower level; and
  • Surviving spouse or common-law partner: Surviving spouses or common-law partners of persons employed in the public service, the CAF or the RCMP, whose death is attributable to the performance of duties.

Appendix B — Recommendations from the 2011 Evaluation of the Priority Administration Program

  • Roles and responsibilities – Better definition and communication of roles and responsibilities, development of information materials for organizations to support their own role of informing and guiding hiring managers and persons with a priority entitlement, designation of a key contact in each organization (as centralized PA expertise).
  • Governance and process management – Create and support more team building across offices (workload, best practices, consistency of judgment, mentoring and oversight); review processes to look for efficiencies and standardize across regions; assign PA advisors strategically according to expertise. Use most experienced to build capacity, develop training/support materials, provide expertise advice and increase monitoring/quality control. Ensure easy access to PA. Review recourse mechanisms.
  • Training of PA advisors and operational managers – Formalized training packages addressing the PSEA and PSER, classification, labour relations, staffing and assessment; mentoring available on-line and on the job; training module and/reference guide for managers to support in supervisory function.
  • Increase quality of referrals – Increase level of involvement of and transparency with priorities to declare interest; review and update codes and offer training to ensure that organizations are using them correctly; review priority coding based on post-referral assessment and update/change as required; increase accountability of all concerned, including persons with a priority entitlement in terms of deciding which positions to be referred to, making themselves available and replying promptly.
  • System enhancements – Adapt PIMS to include additional communication features (e.g. auto-replies to priorities on registration, post-referral results to the PSC and home organizations); allow for more detailed and contextual information that PA staff can share and increase consistency; and provide information to priorities (e.g. statement of merit criteria) to involve them in referral judgements/process.
  • Monitoring and accountability – Implement quality assurance function (accuracy of coding and advice); develop an accountability framework to distil elements, responsible parties, roles and responsibilities, with clear targets and consequences. Performance indicators required to assess fulfillment of obligations.
  • Rebranding” – Following changes, efforts could be made to “rebrand” the PA Program and communicate it broadly to organizations.

Appendix C — Lines of Enquiry and Audit Criteria

The objective of the audit was to determine whether the Public Service Commission (PSC) is effectively carrying out its responsibilities under the Priority Appointment Policy (Policy) and the Priority Administration Directive (Directive), and pursuant to the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Public Service Employment Regulations (PSER).

Line of Enquiry Criteria
Governance and Risk Management
1. There is an effective management control framework to govern the Priority Administration Program
1.1 Roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, plans and procedures for the Priority Administration Program are clear and communicated
1.2 There are policies, guidance and training for the administration of priorities
1.3 The PSC has an effective process for managing risks related to the administration of priorities, including business continuity planning for the Priority Information Management System (PIMS)
Internal Controls for Managing Priorities
2. There are effective controls over the management of Priority Administration Program
2.1 Appropriate controls are in place to confirm and monitor the registration of persons with a priority entitlement in PIMS
2.2 The PSC has controls in place to ensure that clients are effectively supported in the administration of priorities
2.3 The PSC has controls and monitoring that ensure persons with a priority entitlement are effectively screened and referred in a timely manner and in order of precedence
2.4 The PSC effectively issues priority clearance numbers, refers additional persons with a priority entitlement, when required, and reviews all requests for priority clearance for accuracy and completeness
2.5 The PSC effectively monitors the validity of priority entitlements and the organization's respect for those entitlements when appointing persons with a priority entitlement, including order of precedence
2.6 The PSC has an effective process to resolve issues by working with organizations and persons with a priority entitlement to find solutions
Monitoring of Program Performance
3. There is effective monitoring over the performance of the Priority Administration Program 3.1 Implementation of Policy, Directives and service standards are monitored on a regular basis for continuous improvement

Appendix D – References

Acts of Parliament

  1. Bill C-27: An Act to amend the Public Service Employment Act
  2. Public Service Employment Act
  3. Public Service Employment Regulations
  4. Privacy Act

Treasury Board Secretariat Policies, Directives, and Guidelines

  1. Workforce Adjustment Directive

Public Service Commission Policies, Directives, and Guidelines

  1. Priority Appointment Policy
  2. Priority Administration Directive
  3. Public Service Commission Guide on Priority Administration

Other documents

  1. Public Service Commission, 2014, Annual Report 2013-2014
  2. Public Service Commission, 2013, Annual Report 2012-2013
  3. Public Service Commission, 2011, Evaluation of the Priority Administration Program

Appendix E — Management Response and Action Plan

Senior management agrees with the recommendations and has planned the following actions
Recommendations Management Response and Planned Action Management Accountability (OPI) Completion Date
1. The PSC should periodically identify, assess, respond to, communicate and monitor operational risks to the Program. Recommendation accepted – The PSC business unit tasked with administering the Priority Entitlement Program (the Staffing Support and Priority Directorate, or SSPD) will use the annual PSC integrated business planning process to identify risks at the program level and will put in place the appropriate mitigation strategies. SSPD will provide details of the mitigation strategies in the next version of this report presented to the Executive Management Committee (EMC) (First Quarter, 2017-2018) The Monitoring Framework in support of the Priority Entitlement Program, currently under development, will play an important role in identifying emerging operational risks. Monitoring results will inform the business planning process Director general, SSPD April 1, 2017
2. The PSC should implement a control mechanism that allows it to monitor the completion of the Manager's Attestation Form. Recommendation accepted – System and business process improvements are in development that will facilitate monitoring. The PSC will implement system improvements that will require that the responsible manager complete the Manager's Attestation Form electronically SSPD – Priority Entitlement Policy April 1, 2017
3. The PSC should review the screening and referral processes and study the causes for non-responses to referrals to improve the matching of persons with a priority entitlement to job opportunities. Recommendation accepted – Business process improvements are in development that will require persons with a priority entitlement to “self-refer” to job opportunities, eliminating the issue of non-responses SSPD – Priority Entitlement Policy April 1, 2017
4. The PSC should implement a control mechanism to ensure that clearance numbers are used only in cases for which they were issued and when they can be applied. Recommendation accepted – In Q3-Q4 of 2016-2017, the PSC will examine options for a transformation of the business process. These would involve linking the issuance of a priority clearance to a proposed appointment or appointments, thereby providing greater control over the use of clearance numbers and directly addressing the substance of the recommendation.

As an interim measure, the PSC will impose an internal control mechanism on the use of clearance numbers, as suggested in the recommendation. This will take the form of a review of a random sample of files where clearance numbers were issued. Results of the file review will be presented to the EMC with the next version of this report (Q1 2017-2018).

The decision to a) retain the current process or b) move to a different process will be presented as a recommendation to EMC with the next version of this report (Q1 2017-2018).

As an additional interim measure, the PSC will consider including the appropriate use of clearance numbers in the framework for the PSC's horizontal oversight exercises in the near term.

PSC program managers will also review the non-conforming appointments referenced in this section of the audit.
SSPD – Priority Entitlement Policy Q3, 2017-2018
5. The PSC should review its approach to monitoring the usage of clearance requests invoking section 43 of the PSEA by hiring organizations. Recommendation accepted – As an interim measure, PSC program managers will conduct staffing file reviews on the use of section 43 and will report to EMC (Q1 2017-2018). A recommendation will also be provided at that time as to whether further oversight is required.

The PSC is examining options for a transformation of the business process that would result in improved control over the use of clearance numbers and eliminate the need for file reviews. The results of the analysis will be presented to EMC (Q1 2017-2018).

As a further interim measure, program managers will propose that the appropriate use of section 43 of the PSEA form part of the framework for the PSC's horizontal oversight exercises in the near term
SSPD – Priority entitlement activities Q3, 2017-2018
6. The PSC should maintain a record to track priority entitlement issues, the measures taken and the timeliness of the resolution. Recommendation accepted – The PSC will capture and retain information on priority entitlement issues, the measures taken and the timeliness of the resolution SSPD – Priority entitlement activities Q3, 2016-2017
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