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Executive Summary

During the Blueprint 2020 discussions, public servants reported that many rules and processes were overly complex, top-down and lacked coherence. Subsequently, simplifying internal processes and reducing internal red tape was identified as one of the five priority areas of action in Destination 2020. To this end, a small multi-disciplinary Tiger Team was established at the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) to engage public servants from the “bottom up” using social media and roundtables to identify the common irritants and to design solutions to address them. The diagram, “The Internal Red Tape Story,” provides a snapshot of what the team accomplished over the two-year span of the initiative by adopting a user-centric design-thinking approach. This report presents key findings and recommendations that reflect the voices of public servants.

Key findings

Judging from the scope and intensity of the input received, internal red tape is a significant issue for public servants in all departments and in all regions. Public servants broadly recognize that in a large, complex organization such as the federal government, rules help ensure good stewardship, governance and accountability. However, while they recognize the need for rules, public servants noted that the current rules, policies and guidelines are difficult to find and, once found, difficult to understand. This judgement applies to both Treasury Board policies and the vast number of rules created by departments to supplement them.

When asked to describe their experiences with internal red tape, they identified a broad range of things that hinder their ability to perform their jobs. Internal red tape is much more than just the rules; it encompasses the behaviour around the rules. It manifests itself in difficulty getting clear instructions, with siloed information, experiencing poor client service and, ultimately, process overload. It is worth noting that recent technological solutions that had been introduced – such as MyKey, performance management, and the travel portal – were cited as sources of frustration.

Deeper dives into the underlying causes of internal red tape found broad repeating themes. Departmental processes and procedures are often more elaborate than required by Treasury Board policy. Transactions generally follow similar cumbersome processes, irrespective of the level of risk, and existing flexibilities are rarely used. And fear of audit is often cited as a driver for procedures and demands for documentation. This has created an environment where client service takes a back seat to process. And finally, both functional specialists and clients stated that they feel powerless to change the system.

Key recommendations

  1. Improve the rules – Use the current Treasury Board Policy Suite “reset” exercise to streamline rules and clarify accountabilities. Departments should then review their internal departmental policies to ensure they are not duplicative or creating unnecessary burden.

  2. Focus on the user – Make it easier for public servants to follow the rules by providing information, guidance, training and tools that meet the needs of users, including both functional specialists and their clients. Ensure that any technological solution is designed with the user in mind, is user tested and has a feedback loop for improvement.

  3. Improve service performance – Develop robust performance measures that prioritize client service standards to counterbalance the focus on rule-following and compliance. A service strategy for internal services is critical if internal red tape is to be reduced.

  4. Change the culture – Resist behaviours and incentives that drive red tape, such as the tendency to react to events by layering controls and processes. Allow for flexibilities and adaptable practices that respond to the level of risk for a transaction. Reward desired behaviours.

Structure of this report

This report is structured as follows. Chapter 1 sets the context for the initiative. Chapter 2 describes the characteristics of internal red tape and proposed solutions to address them. Chapter 3 centres on the root causes of red tape in three areas. Chapter 4 offers some lessons learned from the initiative. The engagement process, tools used in the initiative, snapshots of internal red tape stories and a service strategy for internal services are in the Annex.

The Internal Red Tape Story
The Internal Red Tape Story, describing what we did (2000+ public servants consulted), what is red tape (things that hinder the ability of public servants to perform their jobs), where is red tape (in everyday tasks such as procuring goods and services, navigating MyKEY, getting IT help, and more), and what are we doing (streamlining the rules, focusing on the user, improving performance, and changing the culture).