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The Auditor General of Canada on Data in Government

May 3, 2016

Less than 24 hours after Canadians’ enthusiasm for the 2016 census may have brought down the Statistics Canada website, Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson released his 2016 Spring Reports and commented about data and its use by government departments:

One of the themes that ties a number of our audits together is that the data collected by many government organizations is either not usable, not used, or not acted upon.

Before taking your questions, I want to go back to my earlier remarks about data in government. Weaknesses in the way data is collected, used and shared within departments and organizations are having a direct and significant impact on the public service’s ability to serve and protect Canadians.

There is no shortage of examples, not just in these most recent audits but also in past ones, to warrant my concern about the way data is collected and used – or not – by government organizations.

In these audits, we have seen that serious consequences can arise when government data is either not useful, or not acted upon. In the Citizenship Program, such failings are limiting the effectiveness of efforts to combat citizenship fraud risks.

In National Defence, a lack of current data on human resources is keeping the Canadian Army from knowing whether Reserve soldiers are trained and ready to deploy, yet the Army relies on these soldiers to carry out its international missions.

In the case of Veterans Affairs Canada, the Department is not using the data it collects to better understand how its clients use drug benefits. This missed opportunity is not in the best interest of veterans, because data about drug utilization can be used to inform decisions about which drugs to cover for a particular individual.

I believe that government departments and organizations urgently need to turn their attention to this issue. They need to focus on collecting the right data to support their activities, on ensuring that data is well-managed and up-to-date, and on fully using this data not only to inform their core business, but also to support reporting and continuous improvement.

 

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