This study is based on five core propositions.
The first is that the federal public service is one of Canada’s
key institutions. It is focused on the public good, and is one of the key pillars
of our democracy. It is basic to our health, to our environment, to our public
safety and to our economic security. These outcomes are important to Canadians
and, as a general rule, our public service has delivered well.
The second is that is important to Canadians that the
federal government be managed in a way that is consistent with our public
objectives and the public’s expectations. “Economy, efficiency and
effectiveness” is the way Canadians expect their public service to operate. In
the last few years, the management of the public service has been under
extraordinary scrutiny, from the opposition, the media, the public and more
than one judicial inquiry.1
Not coincidentally, public opinion polls show that the general confidence in
our public institutions has been on a downward trend for many years.
The third proposition is that it is important for the public
service to recruit into its ranks a broad range of people who have had
management experiences in a wide range of industries, professions and sectors.
As business and management practices evolve, it is important that the public
service evolve at the same time. But the federal public service tends to be a
rather hermetic organization. Most of its employees – and almost all of its
senior executives – are “lifers” – that is they join the public service at a
young age and spend their whole career within it.2 This results in a senior cadre of executives
who certainly understand the whole organization, and has an extensive network
of friends and colleagues who can be drawn on for help from time to time. But
it also means that the senior executive group is NOT in a good position to
evaluate its own performance or compare it to that of the management group in
The fourth proposition is that external recruits at the
executive level can bring more than specific competencies to their jobs in the
public service. They are also in a position to help the public service assess
and modernize its own management culture and practices. They are people who
have experience elsewhere, but who have decided to direct their careers into
The fifth and final proposition is that the federal public
service despite its many strengths, it is not perfect, and by a careful
examination of its strengths and weaknesses, it is possible to identify areas
Public discourse about the management of the federal public
service has been largely dominated by two opposing lines of thought. On the one
hand, there is a constant stream of criticism from the press and opposition
about gross mismanagement, bloated expense accounts and botched administration.
The proliferation of “gotcha” journalism is discouraging and frustrating for
those trying to do a complex job under difficult conditions. This criticism is
often ill-informed, sometimes ill-willed, and rarely helpful.
1 Public controversy over the so-called Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) “scandal”, the Radwanski affair, the sponsorship scandal, and alleged defalcation of funds at Department of National Defence (DND) have all brought public sector management under an intense, and usually unfavourable light.
2 For example, over the last 10 years fewer than 3 percent of appointments at the assistant deputy minister level have gone to people not already in the federal public service.