In The Media

Cuts to DFAIT merit management review

by Ferry de Kerckhove

March 27, 2012

Derek Burney and Fen Hampson recently declared that we don’t need another foreign policy review. I agree but, as we embark on yet another round of cuts, we should look at how we pursue our interests and manage our operations abroad. An across the board 10 per cent or 5 per cent reduction is not the answer. In previous strategic reviews, DFAIT embarked on a “transformation” exercise aimed at garnering savings. Good ideas emerged but change was brought at the margins as it failed to engage other government departments engaged in operations abroad.

A management review would need to address a host of issues:

  1. While commentators have argued that the Canadian Foreign Service has been starved of resources, isn’t the real issue what does the Government of Canada want it to do?
  2. Is the present business model the right one? While embassies abroad are essential, do we have their configuration, structure and numbers right?
  3. Over the years, a good proportion of the growth at DFAIT was in management and administration personnel, creating a rift between the “traditional” Foreign Service and a non-rotational service increasingly unaware of the vagaries of life abroad, trying to translate everything into templates, bringing forced uniformity to a world which eschews it. Today, accountabilities and administration trump the foreign policy mandate. There has to be a better model!
  4. While DFAIT continuously emphasizes the need to rebalance the low ratio of personnel abroad to staff at headquarters, should this issue not be looked at strategically and collectively by all departments engaged in foreign operations in a whole of government approach?
  5. Immigration programs at missions abroad often outnumber other programs. It is hugely bureaucratic, time-consuming, fraud prone, and most immigrants wind up going to the four largest urban centers of the country. Immigration is immensely important for the country but can the program not be better managed?
  6. Policymakers suffer from an information avalanche that gets in the way of effective decision-making. While Heads of Mission abroad remain the “eyes and ears” and spokespersons of their governments and play a critical role in times of crises, alternative sources of information are available. Leaner missions should focus strictly on value-added information and intelligence.
  7. Other than consular services, THE operational priority is trade and investment. At all but a few posts abroad the role of a strong team of trade experts is critical to open up markets and facilitate business development for Canadian companies. We have a global commerce strategy. Is it properly resourced? Our economic survival could depend on it.
  8. Development assistance has given us a good name but there are few examples of assistance programs making a sustainable difference in a country. We have vast CIDA resources abroad supported by a plethora of consultants; we have even more people at headquarters sending missions to posts to develop elaborate country programs. Countries like the Netherlands decided years ago to entrust Bretton Woods institutions to deliver aid on its behalf. It provides greater leverage and ensures a more focused approach while sparing millions of dollars in multiple programs, accountabilities and complex approval processes. CIDA could become a lean policy agency focusing on aid effectiveness in support of IFI’s. Its presence at posts could be reduced considerably through regional offices staffed with liaison officers supporting the work of IFI’s.
  9. Defence attachés are essential in countries prone to major crises and/or with military establishments heavily involved in running their countries. Their numbers could expand. Other departments want a piece of the action abroad. Proposals to that effect should be reviewed impartially to ensure synergies and better use of existing resources, through a real whole of government approach.

Once such questions are addressed, we might get leaner and more effective operations abroad, with clear mandates, under heads of missions as CEOs, not just as Chief Administrative Officers. But then, 10 per cent is easier done!

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