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Screen grab from website of Canada School of Public Service
Screen grab from website of Canada School of Public Service

Globe Editorial

Ottawa’s civil service school is teaching the wrong lessons Add to ...

The irony is impossible to ignore: A federally-funded school for training civil servants has been rebuked in an internal review for questionable contracting practices. Instead of encouraging “pride and excellence in the public service,” as its mandate states, the Canada School of Public Service appears to have institutionalized some of the darker aspects of the federal bureaucracy. Treasury Board President Tony Clement is right to be raising questions about the school.

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The Canada School of Public Service is a government agency that was created in its modern version in 2004. Its role is to provide voluntary career development courses for federal civil servants, as well as mandatory courses such as “Authority Delegation Training,” which is taught and then updated every five years, according to the CSPS website, “to ensure that managers and executives understand their roles, responsibilities and basic delegated authorities in finance, human resources, information management and contracting.”

In short, the CSPS hires retired, pensioned civil servants to teach other civil servants such things as “Writing Targeted Briefing Reports” and “Managing a Meeting.” There are hundreds of courses available; some are online and cost nothing, while others, such as “How Ottawa Works,” are taught in the classroom and have tuition fees as high as $1,650.

The problem is that the retired civil servants teaching the courses are earning eye-catching fees. Records show one is making $82,500 a year for working a half-week (22.5 hours). A former associate deputy minister gets $38,000 for 50 days work. Faculty members get as much as $760 per day to prepare and teach a class. These would not be not particularly high daily fees if the school were a private consultancy; but for a publicly-funded school with a permanent faculty, the fees are extremely generous, especially compared to standard fees laid out in union contracts for part-time university professors.

They are also high fees compared to the average annual salaries of university professors in Canada. A full-time professor at the University of Toronto earns about $136,000 per year. One CSPS faculty member earns $154,300 annually for not quite full-time work.

The federal procurement ombudsman, Frank Brunetta, reported last month that he found evidence the school directed contracts to favoured clients and violated its own procurement policies in doing to. This came after Mr. Clement wrote in a letter to the school last year that he is concerned about the possibility of “inappropriate contracting with former public servants in receipt of pensions, either because contractors are being chosen preferentially or because contractors are being hired to provide work of dubious value.”

Mr. Clement’s concerns are obviously justified. Professional development is critical to any career, and Ottawa is right to provide it to civil servants on an ongoing basis with the best possible teachers. And there is nothing illegal about so-called double-dipping, where retired bureaucrats collect both a pension and a federal paycheque.

But double-dipping is a practice that should be handled with sensitivity, which does not seem to be the case here. And a school designed to teach best practices regarding, among other things, government contracting, should be beyond reproach in that area. The CSPS appears to have grown into a something of a classic government boondoggle, which does not make it the best training ground for the country’s civil servants. Mr. Clement should continue to ask questions.

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