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ARCHIVED - Evaluation of the Treasury Board Submission Process

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1. Introduction

The Treasury Board is a Cabinet committee of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada. It was established in 1867 and given statutory powers in 1869. The Financial Administration Act (FAA) provides the authority for the Treasury Board to exercise responsibilities in areas relating to general administrative policy in the federal public administration, the organization of the federal public administration, financial management, the review of annual and longer term expenditure plans and programs of federal organizations, the management and development of lands by federal organizations, human resources management in the federal public administration, the terms and conditions of employment, internal audit, and other matters determined by the Governor in Council (GIC).

The Treasury Board is headed by a President, whose formal role is to chair the Treasury Board. He carries out his responsibility for the management of the government by translating the policies and programs approved by Cabinet into operational reality and by providing federal organizations with the resources and the administrative environment they need to do their work.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (Secretariat) is the administrative arm of the Treasury Board and has a dual mandate: to support the Treasury Board itself, which is a committee of ministers, in rendering decisions on the government's management and expenditures and to fulfill the statutory responsibilities of a central government agency. With respect to the Treasury Board submission process, the Secretariat provides advice and support to Treasury Board ministers in fulfilling their responsibilities as outlined in the FAA and their role of ensuring value for money in government spending through oversight of federal organizations' financial management functions. The Secretariat makes recommendations and provides advice to the Treasury Board on policies, directives, regulations, and program expenditure proposals involving the management of the government's resources. Treasury Board's responsibilities for the general management of the government have an impact on initiatives, issues, and activities that cut across all policy sectors managed by federal organizations and organizational entities.

A Treasury Board submission is required when a federal organization is seeking approval or authority from Treasury Board for an initiative that it would not otherwise be able to undertake or that is outside its delegated authorities. Treasury Board submissions can relate to one or more of the Treasury Board responsibilities outlined in the FAA.

The Treasury Board submission process has never been evaluated; as a key line of business of the Secretariat, it was important to do so. This evaluation assessed the relevance, effectiveness, and economy of the Treasury Board submission process. Given that the Secretariat is the "owner" of the Treasury Board submission process, the evaluation paid close attention to the role played by the Secretariat in contributing to the success of the process. It should be noted that the scope of this evaluation was limited to the current process used to support Treasury Board ministers and did not include an assessment of the process against potential alternative mechanisms for providing this support. A limited review of international practices was conducted as part of the evaluation; however, this review was not sufficiently in-depth to suggest alternative mechanisms for the Secretariat to explore.

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the relevance, effectiveness, and economy of the Treasury Board submission process, with a focus on the following issues:4

  • Relevance-Does the Treasury Board submission process address a demonstrable need, is it appropriate to the federal government, and is it responsive to the needs of Canadians?
  • Effectiveness-To what extent has the Treasury Board submission process achieved its expected outcomes?
  • Economy-Does the Treasury Board submission process consume the minimum amount of resources required to achieve its expected outcomes?

The research for this evaluation was conducted between November 2008 and March 2009.

2. Background

(a) Change Agenda

The Change Agenda, an initiative launched in 2007, is the Secretariat's plan for building management excellence across the federal government by refocusing its relationship and the manner in which it conducts business with other federal organizations. Through the Change Agenda, it is expected that the Secretariat will demonstrate leadership in management excellence, while taking a more strategic and less transactional approach to federal organizations. The efficiencies gained from such an approach would allow for a greater focus on higher value-added activities, would improve relationships with federal organizations, and would result in better advice to Treasury Board ministers. Although not a subject of this evaluation, the Change Agenda is integral to the Treasury Board submission process because it addresses how the Secretariat's business is conducted.

(b) Treasury Board submissions

Treasury Board submissions are one of the three main documents, besides Memoranda to Cabinet (MC) and GIC submissions, that support the formal decision-making process in government.

Legislation, Treasury Board policies, or other Cabinet decisions usually establish the requirements for Treasury Board approval.5 While Treasury Board submissions may relate to any of the Treasury Board responsibilities outlined in the FAA, typical examples of submissions include seeking:

  • authority to allocate resources previously approved by Cabinet or included in the federal budget;
  • authority to make grants or contributions or approval of terms and conditions of grant and contribution programs;
  • recommendations of approval of orders in council (OIC) with resource or management implications;
  • authority to carry out a project or initiative the costs of which would exceed a minister's delegated authority;
  • authority to enter into a contract above or outside a federal organization's or minister's authority; or
  • exemption from a Treasury Board policy.

It should be noted that the Treasury Board submission process has many links to the government's budget, Estimates, and supply processes. For instance:

  • Federal organizations are required to develop Treasury Board submissions to obtain approval of the specific authorities and resources required to implement initiatives announced in the federal budget.
  • Key elements of many Treasury Board submissions are requests for spending authority to be included in the Main and Supplementary Estimates, which are the mechanisms for seeking supply from Parliament.
  • The recent renewal of the expenditure management system and the associated Treasury Board submissions requesting authority to carry out the results of the strategic review exercises and reallocate resources from low-priority and low-performing programs to higher priorities are also linked to the budget, Estimates, and supply processes.

Treasury Board submissions are divided into "Part A" and "Part B" submissions. All Treasury Board submissions (including strategic reviews) are considered "Part A" submissions with the exception of OICs requiring Treasury Board recommendation. "Part B" submissions are therefore those with OIC attached. As a result, the process, procedures, and relevant actors for "Part A" and "Part B" submissions differ. While OICs are legislative instruments, Treasury Board submissions are a mechanism used by a legal body, Treasury Board.

(c) Current Treasury Board submission process

What is generally referred to as the "Treasury Board submission process" in fact incorporates three phases: pre-submission, submission, and post-approval (depicted in Figure 1).

The pre-submission phase begins when a federal organization contacts the Secretariat either to seek guidance on whether a submission is required or to give notice that it intends to make a submission. Even when a federal organization is simply giving notice of its intent to put forth a submission, the Secretariat may provide its advice on whether or not the submission is in fact necessary. Strictly speaking, there is no Treasury Board submission at this point. Nevertheless, the evaluation-reflecting general practice within government-treats the related activities as being part of the submission process.

The submission phase covers the period between when a decision is taken by the federal organization to prepare a submission and the point at which the submission is considered at a Treasury Board meeting. This phase includes the draft submission stage in which program analysts, along with their managers, act as the single window to provide advice to representatives of federal organizations, including advice from Centre of Expertise (COE) analysts. It also includes the final submission stage in which a prcis is prepared and discussed at the Strategy Committee, a senior governance body chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury Board. The Strategy Committee, which is part of Secretariat-wide due diligence and oversight, enables the provision of considered, coherent, and consolidated advice to Treasury Board ministers. The committee meets frequently and reviews all submissions and associated risk assessments and advice.

The submission is then presented to the Treasury Board for consideration and approval. At this point, Secretariat advice on risks and considerations is also presented to ministers.

The post-approval phase covers actions taken by the Secretariat following approval of a submission, such as communicating the decision to the federal organization, communicating conditions (if any) attached to the submission, and monitoring these conditions.

Figure 1: Treasury Board Submission Process

Figure 1: Treasury Board Submission process

As noted earlier, the Change Agenda is integral to the Treasury Board submission process. The Secretariat in fact performs several of the roles described in the Change Agenda throughout the submission process. In the pre-submission phase, the Secretariat assumes its enabler role when providing the federal organization with guidance and advice. In the submission phase, the Secretariat challenges the submission. However, once a submission is ready to be presented to Treasury Board, the Secretariat shifts to its support role, providing the best advice and recommendations to Treasury Board ministers. This shift in the Secretariat's role is necessary in the Canadian federal government model6 because the Secretariat both assists the client department in drafting the submission and ensures that the assistant secretary presenting the submission to Treasury Board is well-equipped with the best possible advice to support the recommendation.

The Treasury Board submission process is a deliberate and iterative process, at times involving intensive discussion and negotiation between the Secretariat and federal organizations as well as discussion within the Secretariat itself. Given the Secretariat's single-window approach, much of the process is coordinated by the Secretariat program sector that is responsible for the federal organization's portfolio7 and remains the primary point of contact.

While the program analyst plays the lead role in relation to the client department, many Secretariat sectors, apart from the related program sector (e.g. the Expenditure Management Sector (EMS), the Office of the Comptroller General (OCG), and various policy centres), typically get involved in reviewing draft submissions and formulating advice to Treasury Board ministers. Analysts from these sectors, COE analysts, play a substantially different role than program analysts: they review and provide feedback on the sections of a submission that pertain to their area of expertise and policy mandate.

Following review of the submission, the program analyst drafts a prcis, which is essentially the Secretariat's opinion and advice meant for Treasury Board ministers. The prcis includes a summary of the federal organization's request, risk assessment against pre-established risk criteria (which are described in the Guide8), and a recommendation to Treasury Board to either approve, not approve, or approve with conditions the proposals put forth in the submission.

Upon consideration of the Treasury Board submission and Secretariat advice, Treasury Board ministers may attach further conditions to a submission beyond those proposed by the Secretariat or may request follow-up from the federal organization or the Secretariat on a particular issue. For example, a condition may relate to the time frame in which to conduct a formal evaluation of a program.

How risk is handled in the Treasury Board submission process

The Guide states that federal organizations should "provide details of specific risks that need to be managed, measures proposed to mitigate those risks, and any residual risks." Beyond this, it becomes the responsibility of Secretariat analysts9 to assess submissions based on a standardized risk framework that includes the following general risk categories:

  • complexity of implementing the proposed program;
  • robustness of the organization's structures, accountabilities, and management regimes to successfully deliver the proposal;
  • previous issues encountered or current issues that will be raised by proceeding with the proposal; and
  • financial risk of proceeding with the proposal.

Before preparing the prcis, the Secretariat assigns a risk rating-low, medium, high, or very high-to each of these categories as well as an overall risk rating to the submission. The risk ranking is discussed by Secretariat senior management at the strategy meeting and adjusted if required. It serves to frame Secretariat recommendations and advice to Treasury Board ministers.

(d) Treasury Board submission process - One element in a larger process

The Treasury Board submission process is one element in a larger process that involves federal organizations obtaining approval to undertake new initiatives or to continue with existing ones. The following description of this larger process is simplified and does not pretend to cover all cases; however, it is adequate for setting the Treasury Board submission process within the larger context.

Federal organizations undertake their own process of policy development through research and consultation, both internally and interdepartmentally, and ensure that any proposed initiative supports one or more of its substantive policy objectives and is consistent with its mandate. At the end of this developmental process, the sponsoring minister seeks approval for the new initiative. The primary document used for this purpose is the MC. The MC is the vehicle through which the minister proposes and explains the organization's new initiative to Cabinet, including related options and considerations, and obtains its approval.

The MC gives Cabinet an overview of the proposed new initiative's objectives and financial implications and of the links between the recommended course of action and the government's policies and objectives. It includes a communications plan. Central agencies such as the Privy Council Office (PCO), the Department of Finance Canada, and the Secretariat all have roles to play in the MC process.

PCO is responsible for the MC process and it advises the federal organization on, among other things, whether the aims of the initiative described in the MC are consistent with government priorities. The Department of Finance Canada supports PCO by providing advice and guidance on the MC's fiscal information to ensure that it fits with the government's fiscal priorities. The Secretariat, in its supporting role, helps ensure that the implementation requirements are realistically stated, that the MC includes appropriate accountability and transparency provisions, that it is consistent with Treasury Board policy, and that it makes appropriate linkages between the proposal and other existing programs and federal organizations.

A Cabinet policy committee considers the MC and recommends whether the proposal should be referred to Cabinet for ratification. The MC may either be fully approved as presented, approved in principle, postponed pending clarification, or approved with changes. After the MC has been ratified by Cabinet, the sponsoring federal organization develops a Treasury Board submission to obtain the specific authorities10 needed to implement Cabinet's decision.

The fundamental distinction between an MC and a Treasury Board submission is that, while an MC focuses primarily on the policy rationale and overall funding for a new policy or program initiative, the Treasury Board submission provides details on program design, specific costs, expected results and outcomes, and program delivery and implementation. The Treasury Board submission transforms policy rationale and objectives into a program that will achieve those objectives. It details how the federal organization will carry out the policy initiative; why the proposed method of implementation is the best one; how the proposal ensures accountability and transparency; what the expected outcomes and deliverables are, as per the organization's Management, Resources, and Results Structure (MRRS); and how the federal organization will conduct monitoring, performance measurement, and evaluation to ensure the program is meeting its policy objectives. This includes progress reports on outcomes, projected efficiency, timelines, and cost targets. The Treasury Board submission may also seek approval for expenditure authority, contract authorities, or transfer payment authorities.