PM Harper's Chief of Staff Guy Giorno and outgoing top public servant and Privy Council Office Clerk Kevin Lynch

Sub-title: The closest this blog will get to discussing politics

Sub-sub-title: Does PCO Clerk Lynch’s departure signal a new governance model?

Canada’s top public servant, Kevin Lynch, is retiring. There’s a lot of politics about it, and you can bet your wallet money that I’m not going to discuss that here, however I think it marks an important change in governance, redefining public service renewal.

As I discussed last week, I do think a new governance model is necessary to support and sustain Web 2.0 in government (I confess, this paragraph was to link this post to Web 2.0). Right now, I’m thinking there’s motive, means, and opportunity for this.

While I still have an news alert feed setup for news about the various Kevin Lynchs out there, I’m still getting news with mentions about the outgoing PCO clerk. I found this little interesting bit:

“Within the bureaucracy, Mr. Giorno has been seen as a PMO chief more intent on using the civil service to implement policy, and less likely to reach into it for policy and strategic advice.” (source: Globe & Mail)

I thought this was a very interesting point. Surely Kevin Lynch knows everything there was to know about the machinery of Government, he has enough experience to know how to get anything done, and by many accounts he got along great with the Prime Minister. But…

There are serious concerns regarding the  ”public’s deep-seated frustration with government services.” (Treasury Board, 1994), and with Canada’s declining E-government rankings,  slipping from #1 in 2005  (Accenture, 2005) to #7  (United Nations E-Government Survey 2008).  Something hasn’t been working, something hasn’t been right, and something hasn’t been fixed.

And I just can’t see much of the governance changing under Kevin Lynch. Sure he’s a star Deputy Minister of both Industry and Finance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he changed governance, it could equally mean he followed it, and all its checkmarks, performance reviews, audits and reporting requirements. Now Mr. Lynch departs from the public service with another round of renewing the public service unfinished (surprise! Yes, there have been other renewal efforts: La Releve, Public Service 2000 and several commissions through the decades before it). Public Service Renewal is an important initiative, but neither comes close to changing the governance as it does the organisational culture, as it is “one that produces small, incremental changes. It is designed to reach the low-hanging fruits by reviewing a few processes, creating a few new programs, and implementing a few new policies.” (Laliberté, Etienne, “An Inconvenient Renewal 2007). While Kevin Lynch may be great at what he does, I wonder what the PMO thinks about how the Public Service as a whole has been doing.  Do government cabinet ministers share the same concerns as their British counterparts that:

“the Government is particularly concerned with the tools for implementation. Ministers are concerned that they pull the ‘levers for change, but the ‘wires’ feel flack and nothing happens at the other end.” (p.4, ”Benington, John “The Modernization and Improvement of Government and Public Services“ Public Money & Management Vol. 20 Issue 2 , Pages 3 – 8 April 2000)

Some may consider that we have a brewing crisis in Canada’s federal public service.
Myself, I smell opportunity for change.

An article writing about Mr. Lynch’s departure points to Prime Minister Harper’s chief of staff Guy Giorno:

“He’s trying to loosen the control that PCO exercises over PMO,” argued one government staffer. ”Everything gets funnelled through PCO. Giorno was just pushing back against that. Giorno decided to take them on.” (Source: Canadian Press)

Now, I don’t know if it is true that Guy Giorno pressed for Kevin Lynch’s departure – that isn’t the concern here. But it does resonate here that the imposing control of PCO over PMO. Do I agree with it? Doesn’t matter – but I can see how PCO control can interfere with the agenda of the government of power. And I can see how it can mess things up in today’s day in age where the public service no longer has the dominance on the information, decision-making capacity, and resources for the government in power (the ministers, parliament, the prime minister, anyone).

Point is, it’s time for a new relationship between the public service and, well, everyone else, including the government in power. And that new relationship should perhaps start with the government in power.

The two article passages I’ve cited above had me recall a passage from an academic paper from 2006, which I think points to a good direction for what the public needs of a new governance model:

“[T]he types of problems that government faces today cannot be addressed effectively through traditional bureaucracies [and requires] different mechanisms that are more flexible, more inclusive, and more adaptable and operate with greater speed [than before]. [The policies] will increasingly require collaborative structures for execution in which the public simultaneously prefers more government action and less government involvement. (emphasis added, p. 34, McGuire, Michael “Collaborative Public Management: Assessing What We Know and How We Know It” Public Administration Review, Volume 66 Issue s1, pp. 33 – 43 2006)

That’s right: More government action, less government involvement. Government action + Government involvement may have been synonymous in the times of Public Administration past, but it’s an old paradigm for a past time. Today’s citizenry expects the public service to best implement programs and provide services. Why be mired with other details? Leave policy, consultation and control to the citizens and thus Parliament- the people who make the decisions on government (through voting in elections), and the people responsible for representing them.

I believe this is what PMO requires from PCO and the public service. I also think this is what the public want from the government. Then the public service can focus on adding value to the services they provide, through cooperation, consultation and engagement.

And maybe then the public service would not only be re-renewed, but also rejuvenated.