Friday, July 14, 2006

Ottawa trip for every new government hire goofy

VICTORIA - There is something quite wildly mad about the federal government.
The Vancouver Sun has reported that everybody hired by the federal government is now to be flown to Ottawa for an orientation session. If you’re filling in as a filing clerk during a maternity leave or hired to clean a federal building in Prince Rupert, you have to jet down to Ottawa for two days to learn. . . well, that’s not entirely clear.
Mostly, I defend people who work for government against often unfair critics. They work as hard as their counterparts in the private sector. (You can make your own judgment about how hard that typically is). Job security and benefits may be a bit better, but they’re not overpaid and their workplaces increasingly look like those of their corporate cousins, for better or worse.
But the federal government, it’s from some other planet.
The new federal program is called Orientation to the Public Service. Everybody hired for more than six months - as a prison guard, or fisheries inspector or receptionist - has to go to Ottawa for two days of meetings and receptions. They’re supposed to get an understanding of how government works. They get a visit to Parliament, some classes in how the public sector works and a reception “with invited guests such as MPs, senators, senior government officials, and other public servants from across the country." Then back on the plane home.
The program in Ottawa costs $750 per new employee, picked up by Treasury Board. But individual ministries or agencies have to pay the travel costs for their new hires. So, a portion of the budget for policing or delivering aboriginal services will now be spent on travel for any new employees.
It’s crazy. So obviously crazy you wonder how the Liberals approved the program and why the Conservatives decided to commit about $10 million to it this year.
It’s good to have an orientation for new employees, something that reviews how they fit into the organization, pitches its values and goals and makes people feel like they matter. Most organizations do a poor job of it. I was impressed years ago by a speech from a Disney World executive who said everybody hired - from gardeners to vice-presidents - went through a one-week course on customer service and what the Florida theme park was trying to do.
But I’ve worked for companies with headquarters in the U.S., England and Canadian cities. None of them thought they needed to fly every new hire back to the head office for orientation. A few individuals taking on new responsibilities, sure. But not a trip for the sake of the ritual.
Apparently part of the justification for all this is the sponsorship scandal. The notion is that the orientation offers new recruits a grounding “in the values, ethics and accountabilities of the public service."
What a minute. No one from Vancouver, or Kelowna, was involved in the sponsorship scandal - just politically connected types in Ottawa. They should be flying out here to learn from the people doing the work on the ground.
It’s a puzzling - and probably wrong - assumption that the government is hiring people so short on judgment that they need to fly off to Ottawa to learn about ethics by schmoozing with MPs.
And what exactly does this program say about local managers? Are they really incapable of helping new hires understand their roles and the purposes and values of the organization?
What’s most telling about this is that the new Conservative government approved continuing the program. Stephen Harper’s team had only been in government a few months. They should have been full of righteous indignation at Ottawa and its ways.
But the orientation program was only a few million, the civil service brass liked it and so the program lived on. Another new batch of MPs co-opted before they’ve even figured out the fastest route back to their offices.
Footnote: The Conservatives attempted to shift the blame on to the Martin government. “We’ve inherited a lot of programs like this that were decisions made by the Liberals that we’re only finding out about,” said MP Jason Kenney. Except that the Conservative cabinet approved spending for the program in the new governments’ first budget this year.


Anonymous said...

Nothing like a couple of days in Ottawa to get to know how the perks work, not that most rank and file employees will ever get into the rarified area which allows such things to happen. If somebody wants to get new hires up to speed things like videos, conference calls and other communications methods exist. When I worked for a government agency or while in the military we would fight to the death not to have to set foot in the place.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

This trip to Ottawa crap is yet another reason I will never vote again. How can the jerks back there in Fartawa dream up this sort of criminality? I think I know where mad cow disease is centred...Surely the money saved from not paying for such sick trips could be better used paying for better funerals for the growing mound of dead soldiers we are creating in the land of Canada's traditional enemy - Afghanistan.