Joe Friday's Opening Remarks before OGGO - May 4, 2017

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

Good morning, Mr. Chair.  It is a pleasure to be here and to see you and Committee members once again.

The purpose of my appearance this morning is to share with you information about our plans and priorities: to explain how we have worked within our budget to achieve them and how we will continue to do so in the coming year. 

Our 2017-18 annual budget is $5.4M and we have a full-time team of approximately 30 employees.

I know you are familiar with our mandate, given the recent legislative review hearings, so I will not spend any time this morning providing you with information or background in that regard.

My priorities, as outlined in my Departmental Plan, can be summarized briefly as: first, focusing on operational delivery and efficiency through ongoing assessment of procedures and approaches, including ensuring an up-to-date technology infrastructure; secondly, by continuing to address the permanent challenge facing organizations such as mine of ensuring we are known and that people understand what we are able to do to help them when they feel something is seriously wrong at work or that they are being retaliated against for speaking up; and thirdly, ensuring we have the right people in my Office to carry out our important work, which speaks to another ongoing challenge for a small organization such as mine – recruitment and retention.

A key feature of my plans is instilling a spirit of continuous improvement.  The work we do is sensitive and its impacts are broad.  There will always be a better way to do our work, and we have to identify those opportunities to adapt and improve, on an ongoing basis.  Our approaches to our work can and must change, as attitudes toward whistleblowing change, and as the culture of the public service changes over time, as a result of collective will and focused collective action.

For example, in the coming year, we will be building on what we started two years as part of what we call a LEAN exercise.  This is a thorough assessment of our processes and procedures with the goal of identifying ways to improve our effectiveness, including our timeliness.  You may have noted that two years ago, in 2015-16, our self-imposed service standards to complete the analysis and investigation of files were not being met.  This was due not only to staff turnover, but also to what we identified as increasingly burdensome and time-consuming processes.  Following the LEAN exercise, I am pleased to report that we are back on track and will be reporting in our forthcoming annual report that we have fully met those standards for 2016-17.  In the coming year, we will continue with this initiative, focusing more specifically on investigations, starting with reprisals as a priority, and then moving on to disclosures of wrongdoing. 

In terms of our Information Management and Information Technology priorities, we will be working to update our infrastructure to improve, for example, secure remote access to operational files and to ensure staff is fully equipped with the up-to-date tools necessary to do their jobs, wherever those jobs take them across the country.  In addition, we will be looking at options to our existing case management system, recognizing that any options must put the protection of sensitive information as a top priority and must be kept separate from shared or government-wide systems.

I have spoken about our communications activities in my previous appearances, but I do wish to underscore the importance of our continuing investment in this regard.  Reaching out to public servants with clear, accurate and credible information about their options is not something that can be done only once; it is a permanent challenge and shared responsibility. 

While we certainly see an uptake in interest in and questions about our Office following the tabling of case reports in Parliament, our efforts to reach out to people must be ongoing throughout the year and must be targeted.   More specifically with respect to our case reports, as you know, I tabled two founded cases of wrongdoing in February.  I can tell you this morning, Mr. Chair that I expect to table another before the House rises for the summer.  Those two February case reports not only triggered significant media attention, they also triggered an increase in general inquiries to our office and an increase in both disclosures of wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal, making the month of March the busiest of the past year.

I would also like to share with you here this morning that I will be reporting in my Annual Report that we launched 36 investigations in 2016-17, which is a record number for my Office.  And we currently have 44 investigations underway.  We are, I think it is safe to say, busier now than we ever have been.

That leads me to touch on my final priority, which is to build a strong team capable of meeting our increasing workload.  We are adding to our ranks of case analysts and investigators at this very moment, with processes underway to hire additional staff in both areas.  And we are planning for further hiring in both the operational and legal sections of my Office.  I would like to share the observation that hiring and retention is a particular challenge for a micro-organization such as mine, given the impact of even a single departure to a small team, and further given that opportunities for advancement do not exist as they do in a larger organization. 

To give you a current picture of our Office, and I know you have an organizational chart from recent months, we currently have: 8 investigators, including the Director of Operations who you met at the technical briefing provided to you in April; 3 full-time case analysts and two back-up positions who provide us with the flexibility we need to respond to any influx of cases in a timely manner; four lawyers, including our General Counsel, who you also met at the technical briefing last month; and 3 communications officers.  The other positions in my Office, in addition to the Deputy Commissioner and myself, are in the areas of finance; support and administration; and, policy and engagement.

Mr. Chair, my Office currently has a sufficient budget to carry out its work, including the ability to plan for contingencies, including adapting to new technologies; changes in accommodations to respect both government policies and a growing number of employees; and unforeseeable expenses for external legal agents, which we have had to deal with in the past.  Having said that, the coming year is expected to be one in which technology and accommodation-related contingencies materialize, but my projections are that we will be able to respond to those within our existing budget. It is also worth noting that these projections and plans are also consistent with employees’ concerns and desires, as expressed in ongoing consultations with them.

I will end my opening remarks there, Mr. Chair, and I will be happy to respond to any questions.