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Ombudsperson report calls on BC government to address systemic mismanagement in temporary assignment hirings

Monday, June 24, 2024

Victoria – Awarding temporary public service jobs to 64 ineligible people over a 10-year period represents systemic mismanagement and wrongdoing by BC’s Public Service Agency, Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said today.

In a public report delivered under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, BC’s whistleblowing legislation, Chalke said his office’s investigation showed this practice had a variety of negative effects. Not only did career public servants lose out on opportunities to advance their careers, it undermined the public service’s commitment to employee development. As well, systemic acceptance of a policy breach tarnishes the BC government’s reputation as a fair and principled employer, he said.

“Order in Council appointees successfully applied for internal ministry temporary assignment positions even though they were not eligible. While the Public Service Agency has a policy to prevent OIC appointees from applying for and being appointed to these jobs, that policy was not being followed,” Chalke said.

Examples of staff Order in Council (OIC) appointees include board and tribunal members, ministerial assistants and government communications staff. OIC appointments may be made without a competitive hiring process, unlike BC public service hirings. The PSA’s policy excludes OIC appointees and expressly states that temporary assignments (TAs) are career development opportunities for BC public service staff hired through a competitive process.

The Ombudsperson investigation report, Hire Power: The appointment of ineligible candidates to public service temporary assignments, found the software government used to receive applications for temporary assignment was not configured to detect or exclude OIC appointees from applying for TAs. Between 2013 to 2023, 205 OICs applied for internal temporary assignments, and 64 were successful in moving into TAs.

Concerningly, Chalke said, ministry hiring managers sometimes followed a separate unwritten process, on the advice of the Public Service Agency (PSA). When OIC appointees won internal TA competitions, rather than inform them they were ineligible, the PSA advised ministries to hire them as auxiliary employees.

“This alternative process developed out of administrative convenience, rather than addressing the underlying problem and fixing the screening process,” Chalke said. “This deviation from policy had gone on for so long that it became an accepted part of the PSA’s practice.”

The Ombudsperson investigation report stems from a provincial government employee’s disclosure of wrongdoing, under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The employee alleged the improper hiring of two OIC appointees into roles in the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

Chalke said the Ombudsperson investigation showed no ministry wrongdoing in relation to those specific candidates’ hirings, but it prompted his office to focus on the PSA’s instructions for managing OIC candidates in internal temporary assignment competitions. The data reviewed revealed a regular and long-standing issue.

Although this issue involves only a small percentage of public service hires over 10 years, and the harm to those whose careers may have been impacted is unclear, Chalke noted that addressing this issue is a critical broader reminder to all public servants.

“Policy is a cornerstone of fair administration, and adherence to policy ensures consistency, transparency and accountability,” he said. “Administrative inconvenience does not justify circumventing policy, and not following policy can lead to unfair results and negative impacts.”

The intent of the original PSA policy that had been circumvented was sound, because the development of public service employees through temporary assignments improves the delivery of public programs, which benefits all British Columbians, he said.

The Ombudsperson’s first public investigation report released under the Public Interest Disclosure Act makes four recommendations, all of which the PSA has accepted. The recommendations will help ensure practice aligns with policy by:

  • advising OIC appointees they are not eligible to apply for or be appointed to ministry temporary assignment jobs
  • having measures in place to screen out OIC appointees, so they can’t apply on temporary assignment opportunities
  • informing hiring managers of the policy and its expectations
  • establishing a monitoring process with oversight by the independent Merit Commissioner, to ensure policy compliance

Read Hire Power