Evolution of the Federal Public Service in Canada

I’ve always found it interesting that those in my decade, (I’m in my mid 50’s), were not well represented in the public service.  I’m at the tail end of the baby boom, which is really the “bust” generation as described by David Foote in his demographic ground breaker; “Boom Bust & Echo”.  The government was simply not hiring many people from 1982 to 1992 when my generation was graduating and looking for work. As a result, if you are working for the public service today, you are likely over the age of 60 or under the age of 50 or you are a tech transplant that took a government job some time over the past 10 years.

Frank Van Gool Boom Bust and Echo Parliament Buildings
We, of the bust generation, typically had to find our own work
and seek contract opportunities and thus I became a management consultant.  My contracts are typically of shorter duration, so I deliver about 30 to 40 each year and as I look back, have worked on close to 1,000 different projects since 1992.

I’ve observed these periods of hiring, streamlining and downsizing over the past 25 years and been actively involved in all of them; Process Reengineering/Alternate Service Delivery, Program Review, PS2000, La rèleve, DRAP, Vision 2020 and now, Deliverology.  What’s old is new and what’s new is old.  Each of these efforts came about for good reason, but today the public service is not the same place it was 20 years ago.

Similar to the Program Review exercise of the late 90’s, the last round of DRAP was particularly difficult.  Budgets were severely cut and so many positions were removed as people either left or retired.  Discretionary costs were all but eliminated and departments and agencies were left to deliver on ever-expanding mandates with fewer people and dollars than they had before.

So what’s next? … Keep Adapting

The work I do as a consultant and facilitator has to adapt as the public service changes and evolves.  These days, my work has shifted to organizational restructuring and process redesign (Lean) to find ways of delivering the mandate with fewer available people, as well as team building and all-staff meetings to increase the lines of communication in order to regain some of that lost morale.  As long as there is change, there are decisions to be made and organizational work to be done.

I suppose that with time and experience, we are no longer surprised when new change initiatives get announced.  In addition to change, another constant for me has been the challenge of finding smarter and better ways to support the public service in its ongoing efforts.  A long-time client has often said to me, “Frank, Canadians are counting on you!”  I have always taken that to heart and have appreciated the many opportunities I’ve been given to contribute to the work of my public sector clients and feel incredibly proud of the many achievements along the way.

Here’s to continually adapting to and leveraging change for the collective good as we acknowledge and experience the evolution of the federal public service in Canada.