Monday, October 24, 2005

The Chutzpah of the Public Service

Well, if there's one thing Treasury Board president Reg Alcock is short on, it's not chutzpah:

"All the guidelines and standards in the world have no value without a confident and dynamic public service. Our country is fortunate to have a public service with great talent, dedication and integrity," said Alcock.

Coming right before the Gomery report, not to mention l'affaire Dingwall and the Smith splurge -- like I said, chutzpah.

Mr. Alcock said this line while announcing a $35-million-per-year plan for the training and professional development of public servants. Of interest: an orientation program designed to teach values and ethics to those just entering the public service.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you didn't know we actually had an Office of Public Service Values and Ethics? Me neither, until I saw the site the press release linked to.

They do have some interesting stuff here, such as this directive on Duty of Loyalty. Looking at it carefully, you'll realize that this is how the government feels about whistleblowers:

The duty of loyalty owed by public servants to the Government of Canada encompasses a duty to refrain from public criticism of the Government of Canada.

Failure to observe the duty of loyalty may justify disciplinary action, including dismissal.

As you can see, this is not the type of statement that encourages the reporting of wrongdoing on the part of the Government. Of course, there are exceptions:

Three situations in which the balancing of these interests is likely to result in an exception being made to the duty of loyalty are where:

1) the Government is engaged in illegal acts;
2) Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety; or
3) the public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability.

Points 1 and 2 are obvious, of course, but point 3 tends to look like a CYA statement: you can report the wrong, so long as you still do your job. But what if the wrongdoing does affect the way you do your job?

But getting back to this $35-million program. It also includes training for auditors and supervisors, ostensibly to inculcate them in the public service ethos as dictated by the Office.

Frankly I have to wonder about this initiative. $35 million a year seems a bit steep to teach civil servants how the government is supposed to work. And, given how civil service ethics has developed, are the new guys learning the right stuff?