Introduction

1.1 Purpose

The Audit of Temporary Help Services (THS) at Transport Canada (TC) was included in the Department’s 2011/12 audit plan based partially on concerns raised by the Public Service Commission about the use of Temporary Help Services across the government and the potential for the inconsistent or inappropriate use of THS in TC.

The purpose of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of controls regarding the use of the THS On-Line System and THS contracts and to provide assurance as to the extent to which those controls are respected.  The audit also identified trends in the use of THS to determine potential opportunities for greater efficiency,

1.2 Background

When the need arises, TC may obtain outside expertise for temporary and/or specialized help through a number of mechanisms.  From a staffing perspective, TC can hire casual, term or student employees.  TC can also obtain resources by using one of the many Standing Offers (SO) and Supply Arrangements (SA) created by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) to contract for services.

The THS On-Line System is both a SO and a SA created by PWGSC to assist federal departments in the National Capital Region (NCR) to procure temporary help services of up to $400K per contract. 

The SO allows a responsibility centre manager to request a resource(s) of a particular classification and level.  The selection process is based on the vendor with the lowest price who can provide the required resource(s).

The SA allows a responsibility centre manager to contract resources to meet more complex requirements by specifying mandatory and rated selection criteria in a Statement of Work (SOW).  The SOW is sent to a minimum of three vendors.  Two vendors are selected by the THS On-Line System (the lowest cost vendor and one vendor selected randomly) and additional vendor(s) are selected by the responsibility centre manager.  The successful vendor is chosen based on a combination of cost and the assessment of rated and mandatory criteria.

PWGSC defines THS as “services that are provided by the resources of temporary help firms”1

The PWGSC THS On-Line system contains five streams of resources (office support, administrative services, operational services, technical services, and professional services).  Each stream has multiple classifications (e.g. general office clerk, construction site coordinator, electrician, auditor, etc) and each classification has up to four levels (junior, intermediate, senior, and advanced).  THS can only be used if the resource required falls under one of the pre-defined classifications.

Pursuant to TC Materiel and Contracting Services Bulletin 2009-12, “managers in the NCR who require temporary help services must obtain the services using PWGSC’s THS On-Line System”.

The THS On-Line System is only to be used by federal departments in the NCR when:

  • a public servant is absent for a period of time;
  • there is a requirement for additional staff during a workload increase, and there is an insufficient number of public servants available to meet the requirement; or
  • a position is vacant and staffing action is in process.

If the Department’s requirements are outside the above mentioned scope or do not fit one of the pre-defined classifications, then the THS method of supply is not to be used.

A challenge for this audit was how to identify the universe of THS contracts issued by TC since there was no method of definitively identifying THS contracts in the departmental financial system without specifically looking at each contract document individually.  It should be noted that recent changes to the departmental financial system will make the identification of THS contracts much simpler in the future, should the department request tracking of such information.  

For this audit, an initial list of potential THS contracts were identified by examining three fields in the departmental financial system that are to be used to code THS contracts.

This potential list of THS contracts was then analyzed and contracts identified as non‑THS contracts were removed.  The audit team then augmented the list with additional information necessary for the audit by locating and mining various data sources.  This was a long and laborious process.  The resulting list of THS contracts represents the best information that could be generated from the information available in the departmental financial system.  While considerable time was invested in creating this information, the audit could not have been completed without it.

The following table details THS expenses by region and fiscal year:

Expenditures to Date by Region Encumbered Fiscal Year

Region

2008-2009 2009-2010 2010-2011 2011-2012 Grand Total % of Total
4 — NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION (NCR)

17,538,150

19,976,564

15,630,906

11,935,036

65,080,655

98.13 %

1 — ATLANTIC RÉGION

56,855

90,739

76,061

54,000

277,656

0.42 %

3 — ONTARIO RÉGION

154,350

19,619

10,702

80,029

264,700

0.4 %

V — SHARED SERVICES CANADA

 

 

 

241,553

241,553

0.36 %

2 — QUÉBEC RÉGION

82,374

72,347

70,852

15,810

241,382

0.36 %

6 — PACIFIC RÉGION

33,119

32,902

21,845

97,377

185,244

0.28 %

5 —PRAIRIE & NORTHERN REGION

5,716

1,783

18,512

3,244

29,255

0.04 %

Grand Total

17,870,565

20,193,953

15,828,877

12,427,049

66,320,445

100 %

Table 1 Temporary help services expenses by region and fiscal year.

Since over 98% ($65M) of all potential THS expenditures were spent in the NCR, the audit focused only on THS expenditures in the NCR

The following tables are found in the Appendices and further profile THS expenditures:

  • Appendix G - THS Usage by Organization
  • Appendix H - Capital vs. Operating THS expenditures
  • Appendix I - THS Contracts by Value Range
  • Appendix J - Comparison of THS Expenditures vs Professional Services Expenditures

1.3 Audit Objective, Scope & Methodology/Approach

The overall objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of controls over the use of the THS On-Line System and to provide assurance as to the extent to which those controls are respected.  The audit also looked at trends in the use of THS to determine potential opportunities for greater efficiency. 

Over the last four years (FY 2008/09 - FY 2011/12), 244 responsibility centres in the NCR have managed 1,731 THS contracts for a total of $65M in expenditures.  From FY 2008/09 ‑ FY 2010/11, THS contracts represented approximately nine percent of Professional Services contracts per the Public Accounts.

Responsibility centres were ranked and sorted based on both their total expenditures and the total number of contracts administered.  The population was split into those responsibility centres considered to be major users of THS contracts and those responsibility centres considered not to be major users.  All responsibility centres that had over $1M of expenditures and/or administered over 20 contracts for the period FY 2008/09 - FY 2011/12 were considered major users of THS.  Thirty-six responsibility centres were identified as major users.  These 36 responsibility centres (15% of all RCs) represent over 50% (928 contracts) of all THS contracts and 60% ($40.5M) of THS expenditures.

A random sample of 73 contracts was selected for detailed examination from the population of 36 major users.  With a sample of 73, there is 95% confidence, ±5%, that any results found in the sample are also applicable to the population of major users of THS.  

As explained earlier, our list contained potential THS contracts.  Of the original sample of 73, 4% (3 contracts) were found to be non-THS contracts.

Thirteen interviews with responsibility centre managers and administrative assistants were conducted to ascertain the responsibility centre’s need for and use of THS contracts.  The audit also identified what other options were considered and why the use of a THS contract was determined to be the best solution to meet the responsibility centre managers’ needs.  Finally, these interviews helped identify the level of knowledge that responsibility centre managers and staff had regarding the rules surrounding the use of THS and the coding requirements in the financial system.

Further analysis was done and the names of contract resources were identified for the majority of the THS contracts.  Out of 1,121 contractors identified, 63 (4%) contractors were identified as being involved in four or more contracts.  Resources with four or more contracts were further analyzed to determine if any contractors had the appearance of providing continuous services through repeated contracts.

The following sources were considered in establishing the audit criteria:

  • PWGSC guidance on the use of the THS On-Line System.  Information is found on the PWGSC website as well as their user manual3;
  • Bulletin 2009-1 - Acquisition Of Temporary Help Services In The National Capital; and
  • Public Service Commission’s (PSC) 2010 Study on the “Use of Temporary Help Services in Public Service Organizations”.

Based on the above we expected to find the following:

  • Governance Framework
    • Appropriate oversight, based on an assessment of risk, was in place to ensure procedures are being followed and that controls in place are working as designed.
  • Control Framework
    • The Department is in compliance with PWGSC and TC requirements with respect to the use of THS.
    • Managers and staff using THS On-Line System were aware of the requirements.
    • Alternatives to THS had been considered and THS was selected when it was deemed to be the best option to meet short term needs.
    • A “file” was maintained for each THS contract (electronic and/or paper) that contains the contract and all amendments, all invoices and all documentation supporting all decisions/history pertaining to the contract.
    • THS contracts were approved by employees with the delegated authority to enter into such contracts.

The planning phase of the audit occurred from November 2011 to May 2012.  As previously mentioned, required information was not readily available and as such, a significant amount of time was spent in data mining and generating this information.

The audit conduct phase was completed by the end of July.  File documentation for the 73 selected files was obtained and reviewed in detail against the criteria identified in the planning phase.  Selected responsibility centre managers and staff were also interviewed.

1.4 Structure of Report

Audit findings are grouped under two themes: the Governance Framework and the Control Framework.  The Control Framework was further sub-divided into four categories: Compliance, User’s Knowledge of THS, Use of THS, and Records.
Conclusions and recommendations to address weaknesses and gaps described in the findings section are provided in the Conclusions and Recommendations sections. 
The Recommendations section includes a Management Response and Action Plan (MRAP) from the Department.  The MRAP gives management’s response to the audit’s recommendations, commitments, and timelines for addressing identified weaknesses or gaps.     

1PWGSC website regarding THS - http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/app-acq/sat-ths/index-eng.html
(Return to footnote 1 source paragraph)
2 APPENDIX D - TC Materiel and Contracting Services Bulletin 2009-1, “Acquisition of Temporary Help Services in the National Capital Region”, RDIMS #7275162
(Return to footnote 2 source paragraph)
3 RDIMS-#7184017-PWGSC - THS USER GUIDE
(Return to footnote 3 source paragraph)

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