Joe Friday's Opening Remarks before OGGO - April 26, 2018

Appearance before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (OGGO)

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair. It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss the Main Estimates and to have the chance to update you on the work and activities of my Office. I know you are already familiar with our mandate, given the legislative review of last year, so I won’t use my limited time providing you with background information in that regard.

The Office’s 2018-19 budget is $5.5 million, and I have a team of 30 employees. We anticipate increasing that to 35 employees in the coming year, to support our core investigation mandate. The bottom line is that I currently have sufficient financial resources to do my job, but I anticipate using the full budget allotment in this fiscal year.

You have copies of my Departmental Plan, which outlines my priorities. Briefly stated, we will continue to pursue operational efficiencies, using technology, training, HR strategies and process evaluations to support that goal. We will also focus on the permanent and ongoing challenge, as I have discussed with you many times, of reaching out to public servants to ensure that they are aware of, understand and feel confident about using the federal whistleblowing regime.

When I was here last year to talk about our legislation, I spoke about the importance of changing the culture—that is, of making whistleblowing an accepted and normalized part of our public service culture. I want to reiterate, as forcefully as I can, that any change in culture can only be the result of a collective will and a collective effort. My office, which is a micro-organization within the federal public sector, has a significant role to play in this, and we are working hard to do so. Since my last appearance here, we have tabled three cases of founded wrongdoing. These case reports are important in contributing to cultural change, but they are only one contributing factor. We also produced a very significant research paper on the fear of reprisal, entitled The Sound of Silence, that I shared with you last winter. This too, advanced the discussion, and it focused attention on the need for change that is led from the top.

Mr. Chair, a very important indication of the current state of the public service culture is the public service employee survey, the results of which were recently released. They show clear concerns on the part of employees about values and ethics in the workplace, about supporting mental health, and about confidence among public servants about speaking up. We encounter these concerns in the work we do on a daily basis, as illustrated by my two recent case reports of founded wrongdoing and others that I have tabled in Parliament to date.

There is clearly work to do in changing the culture. For example, to the question of whether individuals feel they can initiate a formal recourse process without fear of reprisal, less than 50% of public servants who responded said that they could.

As a Chief Executive myself, one of my immediate interests was how the survey reflected on the state of my own organization. I was very pleased to see that the results indicate a healthy, secure and well-supported workforce. This confirms that the talented people on my team recognize and value the very attributes of the healthy culture that our Office was created to support and protect in the first place. Further, I was heartened to see that 96% of our employees described the workplace as being psychologically healthy.

Mr. Chair, these survey results tell me that my Office, which itself has gone through some much-publicized difficulties in its early days, is an example of the possibility of positive change. It also tells me that my employees are well equipped and able to carry out their difficult and demanding work. In fact, 82% said they would prefer to stay with us, even if a comparable job was available elsewhere. Frankly, I could not be more proud of these results and of the PSIC team.

Relating this to the priorities I identified in my Departmental Plan, I am confident that these results will actually help build confidence among public servants in coming forward to our Office, if they know that they are dealing with people who themselves understand the importance of speaking up and of supporting psychological health in the workplace. I am also certain that Committee members would want and indeed expect people in my Office to be operating from such a place of health and security.

Last year at this time, I appeared here in the context of the review of our legislation. As you will recall, I tabled 16 proposals for legislative change that I felt were progressive, achievable and necessary in order to advance the state of the federal whistleblowing regime. I read with interest this Committee’s thorough report, and I was pleased to see that my proposals were either explicitly or implicitly reflected in that report. I also read with interest the Government’s response, and as I stated publicly, I was disappointed that the Government was not taking action at that time to change the legislation.

Mr. Chair, my position remains that my proposals are relevant and necessary. My hope is that changes will be made, if not now, then in the future, and for my part, I will certainly continue to speak about the need for change to support people in coming forward confidently when they think something is wrong.

To close, Mr. Chair, I am pleased to share with you some important operational statistics in advance of my Annual Report.

Last year, we received 147 disclosures of wrongdoing, which is a significant increase from the year before, when we had 81. How many of these will result in investigations or founded cases of wrongdoing remains to be seen, as we work through these files. The number of reprisal cases increased from 31 to 38, which remains within the general range from previous years, but still represents a significant year-to-year increase. We currently have 23 active investigations underway.

In addition, my Office has met and exceeded the service standards we set for dealing with cases in a timely manner. Those standards are to complete at least 80% of initial analysis of disclosures within 90 days and 80% of investigations within one year. We are at 90% and 86% respectively. And, we are in 100% compliance with the statutory requirement that we assess reprisal complaints within 15 days.

We referred one reprisal case to the Tribunal, and most importantly, in my view, we settled six cases through conciliation, arranged and paid for by my Office, as the legislation contemplates. These cases were actively being investigated by my Office, which could have resulted in referrals to the Tribunal, but they were settled by the parties confidentially, to their satisfaction and in a timely manner. These conciliations are an unquestionable success for the parties, and indeed for our Office and for the whistleblowing regime.

Mr. Chair, I trust this information provides this Committee with a useful overview of some of our key activities and achievements, and that it provides you with a clear and positive picture of the workings of my organization.