Portfolio Offices
December 2010


7. OBSERVATIONS – BUSINESS AND REGULATORY LAW

7.1 Leading and Communicating

The BRL Portfolio Office has developed detailed policies and procedures manuals.

Documented policies and procedures help promote the conduct of activities in a consistent, efficient, and economical manner.

The BRL Portfolio Office provided policies and procedures documents to the audit team at the start of the on-site examination phase of the audit. We were told that the material had been compiled as part of an initiative to ensure that the Portfolio Office had documented everything that was being done in the office before the audit started. The Portfolio Office advised that this has proven a useful exercise since 90 percent of the staff in the office have been working there less than two years. We were also told that the policies and procedures will be updated each summer and that throughout the year the Executive Assistant to the ADM plans to compile information on new procedures or changes as they occur. In this way, the necessary information will be readily available when the annual updates are made to the manuals.

We concur with this approach.

The BRL Portfolio Office needs to take a more proactive role in assisting LSUs to identify and address horizontal management issues and respond to departmental administrative requirements.

Effective and appropriate leadership and communications are essential in ensuring that LSUs have the information they need to follow consistent practices when responding to departmental administrative requirements.

The BRL Portfolio business office serves mainly as a conduit for information and requests to and from its LSUs, the Management Sector, and the Chief Financial Officer Branch. Email that is forwarded/distributed to LSUs provides them with directives, instructions, advisories, and information on legal, management, business, financial, human resources, social, and educational matters. As noted earlier, email is supplemented by meetings, conference calls, and retreats.

Despite the variety of mechanisms used to communicate to LSUs, most LSU heads interviewed by the audit team stated that more support from the Portfolio Office on common administrative challenges and horizontal issues not related to legal matters would be helpful (e.g. establishing a common approach within the BRL Portfolio to responding to requests for language training and management leave, assistance with staffing practices, iCase implementation, setting up a business office, and cost recovery).

Support from the BRL business office could take the form of developing guides, working groups, one-on-one mentoring or training for LSU administrative staff on these administrative challenges. We found that the business office has not provided guidance to LSUs through any of these means. The business office indicated to us that the range of expertise in its LSU administrative offices is wide: small LSUs have few administrative staff and the staff themselves are often quite junior; larger LSUs have larger administrative staff complements, sometimes with experienced full-time office managers who have subordinates with considerable expertise. The portfolio business office stated that it would be difficult to determine the appropriate services for these varying levels of expertise, especially as it is a small business office with limited resources.

In the audit team’s experience, the difficulty in accommodating a broad scope of expertise is a legitimate but not overriding concern. Audits of LSUs since 2000 have found that small LSUs are the most likely to need guidance on administrative matters. They often have only one or two junior level staff members handling administrative matters who are often unfamiliar with departmental systems and procedures. Larger LSUs are generally more autonomous and capable of processing most business-related transactions themselves. The smaller LSUs also told us that they needed assistance from the portfolio business office on administrative issues.

The audit team is of the opinion that the BRL Portfolio Office should be more proactive in providing administrative guidance and assistance to the LSUs within the portfolio, in particular the smaller ones. As the Portfolio Office implements the recommendations of the recent “Footprint” study, additional resources should be available to its business office. This should make it easier to provide these types of services.

Recommendation and Management Response

1. It is recommended that the ADM, BRL Portfolio, ensure that the portfolio’s business office takes a more proactive leadership role in assisting LSUs to identify and address horizontal management issues and respond to common administrative requirements.

Agreed. As noted in Section 3.2 of the audit report, the Business Management Function is under-resourced as found under the Footprint project. BRLP has already taken measures to increase its Business Management capacity to take a more proactive leadership role in assisting LSUs to identify and address horizontal management issues and respond to common administrative requirements.

The Transformation of the Business Management Function, a multi-year initiative, is included in the BRLP Business Plan for 2011-12 and is subject to funding from the departmental Footprint allocation process.

There is a need for the BRL Portfolio Office to ensure that best practices are clearly communicated to LSUs and regions.

We were told that the BRL Portfolio Office communicates best practices as part of its regular interactions with LSUs and regions (i.e. through email messages, monthly lunches, and annual retreats). We were given copies of two email communications: a litigation practice directive and a joint communiqué (from the BRL and Aboriginal Affairs portfolios) on providing advice relating to Aboriginal consultations.

From our interviews with the LSUs and regional offices, we found that there were mixed views on whether these methods of communication were satisfactory, with some LSUs and regional offices indicating a need for more formal communication mechanisms. About half the LSUs indicated that the monthly lunches provided a satisfactory mechanism. Regional offices, on the other hand, saw the greatest need for more formal mechanisms, with some suggesting that part of the annual retreat be devoted to this.

It is important that best practices be clearly communicated to all staff.

Recommendation and Management Response

2. It is recommended that the ADM, BRL Portfolio, ensure that best practices are clearly communicated to the LSUs and regions.

Agreed. BRLP already communicates extensively with DLSUs and regional representatives through email messages, monthly lunches, and annual retreats for all DLSUs and regions. The ADMO BRLP has instituted a new Business Council to discuss and collaborate on horizontal issues and best practices. It includes DLSUs Executive Directors or their representatives and their administrative staff and will meet quarterly. In addition, BRLP will review all its communication practices in response to the audit.

7.2 Administration of Financial Resources

The BRL Portfolio Office complies with the requirements of the Financial Administration Act, but needs to ensure that invoices from the government travel service are reconciled on a regular basis.

The BRL Portfolio Office follows the Department of Justice’s Delegation of Financial Signing Authorities, and controls are in place to ensure that financial transactions are processed in accordance with the requirements of the FAA. However, our testing of a sample of transactions identified an instance where it appeared that the Portfolio Office had been billed twice by the government travel service for a $6,761 travel claim. The claim was for airfare for a trip with a complex itinerary that had changed several times. Subsequent investigation, prompted by the audit team, revealed that the invoice had been paid twice. The BRL Portfolio Office obtained a refund on April 4, 2010.

The audit team is of the opinion that the BRL Portfolio Office should implement a process to reconcile the invoice from the travel service with its record of travel taken to ensure that there are no errors.

Recommendation and Management Response

3. It is recommended that the ADM, BRL Portfolio, ensure that the Portfolio Office institute a procedure to ensure that invoices from the government travel service are reconciled on a regular basis.

Agreed. BRLP has put in place additional mechanisms to ensure improved tracking and reconciling of any travel arrangements and costs.

7.3 Information Management

The BRL Portfolio Office’s information and file management practices are satisfactory.

The BRL Portfolio Office has documented its procedures for information and file management, including an electronic document management protocol for the shared drive. The protocol states that storing electronic documents on the shared drive is not intended to replace employee responsibilities for ensuring that hard copies of documents are filed. We were told that the Executive Assistant to the ADM is responsible for reinforcing the procedures by advising staff on the appropriate procedure when she sees a file not being handled correctly. Confidential files or secret files are stored in locked cabinets, and there is a register where sensitive information is logged. Documents (hard copy and electronic) are placed on file and recorded in a timely manner. When a file is closed at the Portfolio Office, it is sent to the Department of Justice’s Records Services.

The audit team is of the opinion that the BRL Portfolio Office’s information and file management practices are satisfactory.

7.4 Interactions with the Litigation Branch

The BRL Portfolio's interactions with the Litigation Branch are satisfactory.

Most of the interactions between the BRL Portfolio and the Litigation Branch are through the BRL Portfolio’s LSUs. Cases can occur anywhere in the country and involve litigators located in the regional offices. The Litigation Branch relies on the regional offices and/or the LSUs to identify high risk cases.

Management in both the BRL Portfolio Office and the Litigation Branch stated that the relationship between the two is satisfactory. They both recognized the ongoing challenge in ensuring that high risk cases are properly identified. We were told that the approach for managing litigation and sharing information on litigation files is appropriate.

The audit team is of the opinion that the BRL Portfolio’s interactions with the Litigation Branch are satisfactory.

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