Friday, April 03, 2009

Auditor general has lots of praise - Brantford Expositor - Ontario, CA

We need more public oversight to get value for our money PR

Auditor general has lots of praise

Posted By GREG WESTON Posted 1 day ago

The cavernous hall in the federal conference centre was full of long faces yesterday as reporters digested the auditor general's report on government waste and ineptitude.

Sheila Fraser's latest tales from the trough are actually updated progress reports on several federal agencies outed as delinquents in previous audits.

As usual, there were a few horror stories, such as the mind-numbing perennial revelation mobsters and drug-traffickers are slipping through federal security screening and getting jobs in the most sensitive areas of Canada's airports.

But what put frowns on the faces of so many journalists pondering Fraser's handiwork earlier this week was a phenomenon we get to report all too infrequently.

A majority of the sample departments Fraser checked had significantly cleaned up their act.

The auditor general gave thumbs-up, for instance, to an overhaul at Passport Canada after the agency all but came apart at the seams two years ago.

Fraser had previously warned the agency wasn't prepared for new American security rules in 2007 that made passports mandatory to enter the U. S. by air.

Sure enough, the agency was caught with its service down when more than 500,000 Canadians applied for passports in the first month after the U. S. regulations came into effect.

The result was a Canadian traveller's nightmare of day-long lineups at the passport office, processing times of more than a month, and in many cases, cancelled vacations and other trips.

The next big rush is already starting as the U. S. prepares to extend its passport requirements to Canadians crossing the border by land or sea, starting this June.

But this time, Fraser says, the passport office seems far better prepared for the onslaught.

"We are pleased at the extensive action Passport Canada has taken to fix the problems it had, and to be better prepared this time," Fraser said this week.

She lauded the agency for having "put a lot of effort" into making life better for consumers, including an exhaustive PR campaign to encourage Canadians not to wait until the last minute to get a passport.

Fraser cautions only "time will tell" if Canadians are smart enough to heed the advice.

The auditor general also had good things to say about Indian and Northern Affairs, a department that rarely gets to the bureaucratic podium.

Fraser lauded the department for a 42% increase in transferring treaty lands owed to First Nations communities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Aside from the ongoing security fiasco at the nation's airports, Fraser even had some positive things to report on national policing and intelligence.

Good thing.

The last time she checked, in 2004, border watch lists for suspected terrorists and other criminals were full of errors and omissions, and didn't even include a roster of stolen passports.

While problems remain, Fraser gives the various policing and border agencies good grades for improving the reliability of the watch lists.

Fraser's report also included two chapters from her environmental counterpart, Scott Vaughan, who gave gold stars to both the federal environment and health departments.

He said Health Canada had updated drinking water standards that had not changed in more than 15 years, and the environment department had managed to produce a meaningful air pollution index.

All of which may leave ordinary Canadians wondering why it takes a mauling by the auditor general to achieve such seemingly basic levels of service.

But for now, at least, Fraser's dearth of news for reporters was good news for taxpayers.

No comments: