Dwindling Public Confidence in Government Accountability Affects Canadian Prosperity
Former ADM-Level executive advises use of clear outcomes, ethics and information management rather than complex rules and processes to achieve public sector accountability
Ottawa, February 15, 2008 -- A drop in public trust in governments to “do the right things right” is costing Canada economic and social momentum, and government’s response -- to increase the rules for accountability -- is too often putting up barriers that can make the issue worse, says Rejean Gravel. Mr. Gravel, who spent more than 20 years in the federal government at the executive level and is now advising public and private sector organizations, is speaking at an executive roundtable called “Governing Smarter”, being held in Ottawa on February 26th. Governing Smarter wrestles with the question: How can the government increase accountability and help Canadians compete more powerfully on the global stage?
“Forty years ago 80% of the public trusted governments to be accountable,” said Mr. Gravel. “Today, that has dropped to 30%. We have to revisit that way we are providing Canadians with the world-class public service they want and expect.”
Praising Prime Minister Harper’s Federal Accountability Act as a significant step in the right direction, Mr. Gravel cautioned that a reliance on increasing the number of rules in the hope that behaviour will change, will be self-defeating. “Despite 30 years of rule making and detailed codes of conduct we have often failed to prevent bad behaviour. Part of the reason is because they have become bewilderingly detailed. We now have situations where new layers of policies and rules are added without thoroughly -- or at all -- checking for conflicts with earlier or related policies and rules. With each increase in complexity, the dangers increase that conflicts will also be sparked between levels and jurisdictions of government.”
The rise in rules also aggravates a perceived trust by the government in the public service executive. “Relying on complex formulas of rules slows down decision-making processes in areas like procurement, and overwhelms the managers,” noted Mr. Gravel. “Ultimately, the demand for increasing rules to provide accountability punishes the vast majority of managers that are absolutely honest. With time, rule-based systems are shown not to work as well as expected.”
The alternate to rules-based approaches to preventing bad behaviour is education, skills and information, he indicated. “Accountability without information is like justice without laws. While the public service is a huge information gathering and producing machine, most of what is gathered and produced, however, is effectively lost. Information Management – the disciplined, department-wide application of policies, procedures and technologies to ensure that the full value of data is realized at every stage of the information life cycle – is good or adequate in a number of departments. It is weak in too many others.
“We must make accountability simpler. The benefits will be enormous. The increased synchronicity between the spheres of society will increase the prosperity of the country. It will make Canada a better country -- more open, simpler, with better values, high productivity and a leaner and efficient government. One of the main advantages will be a huge increase in the degree of satisfaction we have with our own country.”
The Governing Smarter event is being sponsored by the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, the Access Group, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, and VISA Canada. Partners include OCRI, the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, and National Capital Scan. Attendance is reserved for senior executives.
++ Please Confirm Your Seat Today
Date: February 26, 2008
Location: Carleton University (Robertson Hall, Senate Boardroom, 6th Floor 608)
Time: 8 am to 11:30 am
++ Action Item: RSVP NOW by sending your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling us at (416) 629-7924. Please include Government Roundtable, in the Header. Note that you are invited as a guest of CATAAlliance. We hope that this informative half-day session will allow you the opportunity to debate and discuss amongst your colleagues tactics and strategies for strengthening accountability, streamlining processes and fortifying leadership in government,