8. OBSERVATIONS – CENTRAL AGENCIES PORTFOLIO
The Central Agencies Portfolio Office needs to assign clear responsibility for keeping its administrative procedures manual up-to-date.
Documented policies and procedures help promote the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner.
The Central Agencies Portfolio Office provided procedural documents to the audit team at the start of the on-site examination phase of the audit. These included an Assistant Deputy Minister Office (ADMO) Desk Guide, which contained detailed daily procedures for the Administrative Assistant to the ADM, and an administrative procedures manual, which is watermarked WIP (work in process).
The ADMO Desk Guide details the procedures to be followed at the start, during, and end of the day. It also covers the procedures to follow for telephone calls, meeting files, signature files, maintaining files lists, emails from the Deputy Minister’s Office, translation, travel, conferences and training, correspondence, memos to the deputy ministers of Finance and Justice, and access to information requests. As the primary user of this document, the Administrative Assistant to the ADM is expected to keep it up-to-date.
We reviewed the administrative procedures manual and observed that there is an emphasis on financial issues. In addition, while some sections describe a procedure, many sections contain only an Internet site where more information on the subject can be found, or the name or phone number of a contact is given. The audit team is of the opinion that this practice is acceptable provided the material is up-to-date. No one person, however, has responsibility for keeping the document up-to-date.
The Central Agencies Portfolio will be in a better position to provide leadership and support to LSUs when the business office is fully staffed.
Effective and appropriate leadership and communications are essential for ensuring that a Portfolio Office’s LSUs have the information they need to follow consistent practices when responding to departmental administrative requirements.
LSU heads interviewed by the audit team advised that significant turnover has occurred in the Central Agencies Portfolio Office. They also noted that the financial officers in the ADMO require more training. The heads of smaller LSUs would like more support on financial management matters: they noted that the Portfolio Office did not offer concrete assistance to improve LSU knowledge of cost recovery rules, which they indicated were complex and not well understood in the LSUs. LSU heads in general also stated that the Portfolio Office could improve its support for implementation of the Law Practice Model.
We were told that as a result of the “Footprint” Project, the Central Agencies Portfolio Office plans to increase the number of staff in its business office. Also, a Financial Management Advisor from the Chief Financial Officer Branch has been located in the Portfolio Office since August 2009, and a new Portfolio Business Manager was appointed in April, 2010.
The audit team is of the opinion that with the planned increase in the number of staff in its business office, the Central Agencies Portfolio will be able to address many of the concerns raised by the LSUs.
The Central Agencies Portfolio Office communicates best practices to its LSUs.
It is important that best practices be communicated to all staff. As noted earlier, the Portfolio Office maintains regular communications with its LSUs via email. This includes sending out examples of best practices drawn from other LSUs in the portfolio. The LSU heads interviewed by the audit team varied in their opinion on whether the Portfolio Office should do more to communicate best practices. Two LSU heads indicated that the Portfolio Office could do better, but they noted that staffing problems had limited the capacity of the Portfolio Office to do more. Another LSU head stated that monthly meetings were an adequate forum for communicating best practices.
In our opinion, no specific action is required to improve the communication of best practices with the LSUs in the portfolio. The planned growth of the business office will improve the Portfolio Office’s capacity.
Recommendation and Management Response
4. It is recommended that the ADM, Central Agencies Portfolio, assign clear responsibility for keeping the Portfolio Office’s administrative procedures manual up-to-date.
Agreed. Responsibility for maintaining the Portfolio Office Administrative Procedures Manual will be assigned to the new Administrative Assistant to the Director of Business Management. This position has recently been created and is expected to be staffed on a permanent basis in December 2010. Implementation of this recommendation will be complete once the employee takes on this task.
Controls to ensure compliance with the FAA have been improved.
We reviewed a sample of 25 transactions from 2008-09 and 2009-10 to determine the compliance of the Central Agencies Portfolio Office with the FAA. For the invoices examined from 2008-09, some were missing certification that the goods were received or the services provided (Section 34, FAA), or the certification was found to be inconsistently carried out. Two of the 2008-09 invoices for LSU training costs we examined were certified by the LSU Head because he/she had authority for the cost centre, and two invoices had no certification. In 2008-09 the ADM certified payment of her own bar fees, while the Deputy Minister certified payment of the bar fees for the other LSU heads in the portfolio. Furthermore, an invoice for translation was not approved by either the Portfolio ADM or the business manager, and the attached spreadsheet could not be reconciled to the invoices. We were told that there was confusion over who should approve these invoices.
Since August 2009, a Financial Management Advisor has been located in the Central Agencies business office. The FMA has been working to put in place proper controls for 2009-10 and has made improvements. Within our sample, all the invoices for training or bar fees for 2009-10 were approved by either the ADM or the LSU Head. A selected translation invoice was approved by the ADM and the invoice had been reconciled to the individual requests for service.
We observed improvement in the controls for 2009-10 over those observed for 2008-09. Based on our observations, it is our opinion that the Central Agencies Portfolio Office now has adequate controls in place to ensure compliance with the FAA.
Given its planned staff increases, the Central Agencies Portfolio needs to document filing procedures in its administrative manual to ensure appropriate information and file management practices.
The Central Agencies Portfolio Office’s administrative procedures manual does not include guidance on filing procedures for paper records, nor are there any directives for filing on the shared drive. Despite the absence of procedures, we found that physical files can be found when required; that the staff in the office place documents as required on file; and that file closures and archiving are up-to-date. Portfolio Office staff are aware that the shared drive could be better organized, but stated that they lack the time and staff to do this. They indicated that documents can be found when required. Because this is a small group, consultation also occurs before a new folder is created on the shared drive.
In our opinion, as staff numbers increase in the Central Agencies Portfolio Office (as planned under the “Footprint” Project), it will become more difficult to ensure the consistent application of the existing informal procedures. The development of written procedures will help to ensure consistency as new staff join the portfolio business office.
Recommendation and Management Response
5. It is recommended that the ADM, Central Agencies Portfolio, ensure that Portfolio Office filing procedures are documented in its administrative manual.
Agreed. The Central Agencies Portfolio Office will develop and implement a new filing procedure to enhance its information and file management practices. This project will be led by the new Administrative Assistant to the Director of Business Management with support from various members of the Portfolio Office team. The new filing procedures will be fully implemented by July 2011 and will be included in the Administrative Procedures Manual.
The Central Agencies Portfolio’s working relationship with the Litigation Branch is satisfactory.
The Treasury Board Portfolio (TBP) LSU within the Central Agencies Portfolio handles all litigation relating to employment matters before administrative tribunals. The Litigation Branch assumes responsibility for a case if it is appealed to the federal courts. This only occurs with a small number of cases.
Management in both the Central Agencies Portfolio and the Litigation Branch told the audit team that occasionally in the past information was not shared between the two on a timely basis. However, we understand that this is no longer an issue.
The audit team is of the opinion that the current working relationship between the Central Agencies Portfolio and the Litigation Branch is satisfactory.
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