Departmental Legal Services Unit
Canada Border Services Agency
Overall, we found that the LSU’s management control framework is adequate and supports the delivery of legal services to the client department. Open communication at all levels and the implementation of an MOU, which is revised every two years, ensure that client needs are addressed in a timely fashion and that the LSU responds to these needs according to set performance standards. Opportunities exist to improve governance by finalizing and fully integrating the business plan and by formally documenting all management decisions. Furthermore, management should formally report progress against the business plan, update and/or finalize draft documents, ensure that work objectives for team leaders fully reflect their responsibilities, and implement the approved remedial plan designed to address the LSU’s records facility issues.
The Department has established dedicated legal services units (LSUs) for most government departments and agencies. These units provide a range of legal advisory and other services to the client organizations to facilitate their operations.
This audit focused on the management practices of the LSU serving the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) with an overall objective of examining the framework within which the LSU delivers its services to CBSA and recommending improvements if necessary. The scope of the audit included the operations and activities of the CBSA LSU, which is located in the National Capital Region. The planning and on-site examination phases of the audit were carried out between October 2010 and January 2011.
Governance and Strategic Direction
Management is providing governance and strategic direction to staff through the CBSA LSU business plan, allowing for internal coherence, corporate discipline, and alignment to planned objectives. Progress against the plan is monitored regularly and discussed at various meetings with staff.
Formal minutes are taken at staff meetings where critical management issues are discussed and the resulting decisions are communicated effectively to staff. Management does not formally document the results of discussions held on non-critical matters. In our view, all decisions affecting the management of the LSU should be formally documented in order to preserve corporate memory.
The LSU has developed a business plan that focuses on overall strategic direction, objectives, risk mitigation strategies, priorities, and HR staffing. The plan has been communicated informally to staff. Still in a draft format, it lacks a budgetary component and has not been updated to reflect the positive actions taken by the LSU to address the staffing issues raised in the original staffing plan. Management should finalize and fully integrate the business plan.
During the year, the LSU contributes to the CBSA planning process through open communications and membership on different committees. Involvement in the process allows the LSU to understand and respond to the needs of the client and manage its own resources accordingly.
Since its inception in early 2004, the CBSA LSU has been required to respond quickly to a changing organizational environment in order to meet its client’s needs. In that respect, the LSU developed a reorganization plan in March 2010 to match a new operational arrangement adopted by the CBSA. Key activities, responsibilities, skills, level of effort, and working conditions were defined and communicated to staff.
LSU management monitors performance as part of an ongoing process to assess the organization’s progress against objectives. The process includes an informal communications system to share information with staff about the LSU’s overall objectives and priorities and the progress realized toward their achievement. However, progress against the business plan is not formally documented and cannot be readily assessed against the business plan. In order to facilitate the monitoring of progress against plans, management should develop and implement a formal reporting process.
LSU management has developed a formal MOU with the CBSA that addresses the roles and responsibilities of both the LSU and the CBSA, and articulates performance expectations including service standards and client service delivery expectations. The MOU is updated every two years to reflect new client expectations and collect information on the client’s level of satisfaction with the LSU’s performance.
Team leaders are responsible for reviewing client requests and allocating work to staff based on their expertise and availability. Workload is revisited at staff meetings to ascertain that client priorities are met and that work is proceeding in accordance with plans and priorities. In our opinion, workload is assigned, monitored, and tracked.
Leading and Communicating
Management has substantive and timely communications with oversight bodies. These communications provide the basis for an effective leadership and support actions taken by staff in their day-to-day activities.
The LSU has developed the CBSA Legal Services Manual, which is a complete operations manual. Although the manual is in draft form, staff currently use it for procedural and other guidance. The manual should be finalized and distributed to staff.
Management of Human, Financial, and Material Resources
The CBSA LSU has the appropriate number and mix of resources to meet current client requirements for legal services. Management exercises control over staffing issues and provides staff with professional development opportunities to meet the needs identified in their performance appraisals. LSU staff use flexible work arrangements, which are governed by set procedures, and these have had no adverse effect on the delivery of client services.
LSU management conducts annual performance appraisals for all legal and support staff. In reviewing the work objectives identified for team leaders, we found that their objectives should incorporate the team leaders’ assigned responsibilities for their corporate priority as identified in the business plan.
The LSU exercises good control over its assets. These are recorded in a permanent inventory system maintained by the CBSA. Access to the LSU’s premises is governed by set procedures and confidential information is secured in a separate room controlled by a registry clerk.
The increase in the volume of activity has triggered a need for additional storage space and the current shortage has created both a health and safety hazard as well as a security risk. Management has developed a remedial plan to alleviate these risks. This plan has been approved but should be implemented.
The CBSA LSU prepares monthly financial reports to respond to the requirements of the PSDI Portfolio: budget variances are analyzed and explained, and any outstanding issues are investigated and resolved for the next reporting period. The LSU exercises good control over its financial resources.
Information Systems and Management
The CBSA has access to a variety of information systems that support decision making, setting of objectives, and utilization of resources. Information generated from the systems used is adequate, reliable, and complete.
The Department of Justice issues departmental guidelines to ensure the efficient management of files and records. At the LSU level, the CBSA Legal Services Manual outlines the process supporting the management of electronic data.
LSU management has identified as a priority the need to develop formal criteria to support the closure of files. The task has been assigned to the Knowledge and Information Management Working Group and completion is expected within the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Compliance with the Official Languages Act
LSU management has implemented procedures to ensure that the LSU is in compliance with the requirements of the Official Languages Act. The LSU conducts meetings and issues communications in both official languages. Staff receive language training when needed, and the LSU provides services in the client’s language of choice. The LSU has identified the official languages requirements for each position but should update the HR staffing plan to reflect this.
Risk and Legal File Management and Forecasting Demand for Legal Services
Risk and Legal File Management
The CBSA LSU has developed effective risk management practices to support the successful completion of legal case work. Procedures are in place for receiving requests and instructions from clients and for identifying the risks associated with files. Staff confirmed that the procedures are adequate and support them well in their activities.
Forecasting Demand for Legal Services
LSU management participates in the CBSA annual planning process through membership on various committees and uses the information gathered on CBSA activities to identify client requirements for legal services on an ongoing basis. This process allows the LSU to forecast the type of resources needed for the coming year to meet client requests for services in a timely manner.
Interfaces with Other Organizations
Department of Justice
The CBSA LSU receives direction, advice, and support from the PSDI Portfolio regarding financial and human resources, and administrative matters. It also participates in weekly teleconferences with the Portfolio and the regions to share information on law-related matters and Portfolio issues. Communication linkages with HQ and regional offices are clearly defined in the CBSA Legal Services Manual, which is accessible to all LSU staff.
The LSU has established procedures and processes to support open communications with the client through membership on various CBSA committees. In addition, LSU management has developed a formal MOU with the CBSA that addresses the roles and responsibilities of both the LSU and the CBSA, and articulates performance expectations including service standards and client service delivery expectations.
In its MOU with the CBSA, which is updated every two years, management has developed feedback mechanisms to determine the client department’s level of satisfaction with LSU services. Client satisfaction is also assessed every three years by the Department of Justice through a formal survey conducted by the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management (SPPM). Survey results and audit interviews indicate that the CBSA is satisfied with the services provided by the LSU.
The management responses to the recommendations contained in this report were provided by the Senior General Counsel, Canada Border Services Agency.
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