Blogs & Comment

Civil service secrecy needs to go

The mess in Ontarios electronic health records iniative was the focus of yesterdays column eHealth: High cost, low return. It delved into the Auditor Generals report, which criticized (among other things) the failure of the eHealth agency to tie the remuneration of their phalanxes of consultants to the deliverables due under their contracts.
Instead, they were paid based on their time sheets, so the consultants had incentives to stretch out the delivery of results. That was one of the flaws, in my opinion, that spawned yet another sad tale of how Canadians dont get value for their public services.
But another section of the report deserves the spotlight too because it serves to illustrate another proclivity of the public service. And that is, as stated in A taxpayers rant: the culture of covering up and obfuscation. Its bad enough the public service tends to deliver programs at high cost and low return, but that it also seems to strain every sinew to keep news of inefficiency and waste from entering the public domain.
It turns out the Auditor General of Ontario had to deal with some roadblocks before he could get down to investigating the electronic health records registry. Here is what he had to say:
I first wrote to the Deputy Minister in the late summer of 2008, advising him of this audit.. As our planning proceeded, we requested access to the Ministrys eHealth Program Branch office and working accommodations for our field auditors, as is our normal practice. Despite repeated efforts over the course of several months, we were granted neither access nor accommodations until early February 2009.
. However, once the space was finally made available in late December, we were surprised to learn that access was still being denied us, this time on the grounds that the Ministry had not yet agreed to the scope of our audit or to the overall audit objective of assessing progress on its EHR [electronic health records] initiative.
.. We were told that, since the Ontario government is working on a broader eHealth strategy progress on the EHR should not be our focus, and, until this was resolved, we did not have the Ministrys approval to commence our audit fieldwork. We were granted access only after I intervened directly with the Deputy Minister.