Five things to know about the auditor general’s reports on the federal public service

Five things to know about the auditor general's reports on the federal public service
Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan packs up her notes after participating in a news conference in Ottawa, on Monday, March 27, 2023.

A new round of reports from the auditor general is once again revealing gaps and delays across the federal public service, including in access to antimicrobial drugs, processing of immigration applications and discrimination in the public service.

Auditor general Karen Hogan’s audits also look at the public service’s efforts to modernize its information technology systems and the way benefits such as employment insurance are delivered.

On Thursday afternoon, federal ministers said they accepted the report results and would work towards implementing Hogan’s recommendations.

Here are five things to know from the reports.

Canadians lack access to new antibiotics of last resort

As the threat of resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs continues to grow, the auditor found the government’s efforts to address the problem were inadequate.

Hogan said the government’s plan to address antimicrobial resistance doesn’t include any measurable goals or timelines, and it hasn’t done enough to secure new antibiotics that are available in other countries.

The auditor found that Canadians don’t have access to 19 of the 29 antibiotics that have been classified by the World Health Organization as reserve antibiotics or antibiotics of last resort.

In 2022, the WHO declared the problem a “silent pandemic,” and it attributes five million deaths worldwide to antimicrobial resistance each year.

Refugees face the longest application wait times

The auditor general says refugees are being left behind by Canada’s oversized immigration backlogs.

Hogan’s report on immigration backlogs found that while processing times improved for most permanent residency programs in 2022, they still remain long.

But the situation for applicants to refugee and humanitarian programs is even worse.

As of last year, some applicants had waited almost three years for a decision from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Hogan has called on the government to immediately create a way for them to apply online.

SEE ALSO: Auditor general says B.C. government should adjust bookkeeping method

Government information technology is in bad shape

The AG found that progress on modernizing IT systems has been very slow, with two-thirds of the 7,500 applications used by departments and agencies described as being in poor health.

Some of the IT systems used by the public service date back to the 1960s.

Hogan says they are at risk of failure and could disrupt the delivery of benefits or the issuance of income tax refunds.

Benefits delivery update increasingly delayed and costly

The AG also looked at the federal government’s Benefits Delivery Modernization Programme, an initiative launched in 2017 that aims to modernize the systems used to deliver the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and employment insurance benefits.

Hogan found the initiative has experienced significant delays, rising costs and staffing challenges.

For example, Employment and Social Development Canada was planning to migrate Old Age Security benefits to a new platform by December 2023, but had to push that to December 2024.

Now, Hogan says the effort is at risk of being delayed again for an additional year.

The estimated cost of the modernization project has also gone up 43 per cent, rising to $2.5 billion from $1.75 billion.

Efforts to combat racism in public service falling short

The auditor general found that efforts to combat racism and discrimination in major departments and agencies, representing about one-fifth of the public service, are falling short.

Leaders are also failing to adequately track whether the work lives of racialized employees are improving, Hogan found, and accountability for behavioural and cultural change was “limited and not effectively measured.”

People the auditor interviewed said they felt there was a “lack of true commitment” to equity, diversity and inclusion.

The audit covered the Department of Justice, Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, Correctional Service Canada and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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