The Auditor General is coming! Look efficient!

That’s right, it’s that time of year again. In fact, it’s well past that time of year — Sheila Fraser had originally planned to table her report last December. Instead, it got lost in the shuffle of the kerfuffle that surrounded the surprise ending to the last session.

Undaunted – and really, who would dare daunt Sheila Fraser? – she rescheduled the report’s release for the week after Parliament gets back. Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan will also be tabling his report – which is annual, not quarterly – on the same day.

What could make both reports particularly interesting, from a political perspective, that is – is that this may* be the first time since the Conservatives came to power that most, if not all of their findings will be based on audits carried out over the last two years. Depending, of course, on what they find, that could make it difficult for the current government to blame any particularly embarrassing revelations on the previous regime.

*Try as she might, ITQ was unable to sweet talk the AG’s office into telling her what time periods would be covered in this round of audits. Apparently, like the results, that information won’t be revealed until the report is released. As such, all they were willing to say was that they “strive to make their work current.” Like sphinxes, those people.

Anyway, with that in mind, then, here are the chapters that, in ITQ’s view, pose the greatest risk to the government of providing fodder for at least a few days of sensational headlines and opposition outrage:

Chapter 2, Governance of Small Federal Entities
The audit examined elements of the federal government’s regime of governance for small entities—the arrangements by which central agencies of government oversee the management of these entities (considered in this audit to be federal organizations with fewer than 500 employees or annual approved expenditures less than $300 million). Specifically, the audit examined oversight and coordination, reporting requirements, and shared services. Audit work was carried out in the Privy Council Office, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, and the Canada Public Service Agency; in three federal departments with a large number of small entities in their portfolios; and in six small entities.

Anything involving PCO runs the risk of becomes the Prime Minister’s problem, at least as far as ministerial accountability in the House, which is why opposition parties will go over this chapter with a magnifying glass, in search of sufficiently sordid examples of blatant waste and/or mismanagement. Also, the more obscure a department – or “small entity”, in this case – the more chance there is that it hasn’t been on the Auditor General’s to-do list for a while, and when that happens, it’s inevitable that the occasional inefficiency will settle into the system.

Chapter 3, Contracting for Professional Services—Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)
The audit examined PWGSC’s awarding of contracts for professional services to help deliver its departmental programs. It also examined how such contracts are managed after they are awarded. In addition, the audit looked at the Department’s management controls and monitoring practices with respect to contracts for professional services.

Contracting. Professional Services. PWGSC. Really, what more needs to be said? ITQ’s prediction: during the Auditor General’s pre-release press conference in the lockup, this will be the chapter cited most often by reporters, who have never quite given up hope that one day, she’ll come out with as line as instantly devastating as the legendary “broke every rule in the book.”

Chapter 8, Reporting on Health Indicators—Health Canada
The audit examined to what extent Healthy Canadians, a biennial federal report on health indicators produced by Health Canada, meets the Department’s obligations under federal commitments made in First Ministers’ health agreements in 2000, 2003, and 2004. The commitments called for reporting to Canadians on a number of health indicators (wait times for health services, for example) that could be compared across jurisdictions and over time to measure progress in health care renewal. The audit also looked at whether Health Canada’s reporting has improved over time.

What can we say, except that if there’s one thing Canadians love to tell pollsters that they care about more than anything else, it’s our health care system, and that means that anything related to health care automatically makes the shortlist. The same will likely apply to the entirety of the Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner’s report; just read the previous sentence, substituting “environment” for “health care”.

(At this point in time, ITQ would like to remind her readers that she doesn’t make the rules; this is just based on her experience covering – and watching the coverage of – past reports.)

So, what about the remaining chapters? Don’t worry, it’s not as though they’ll be ignored – not entirely, that is.

Fraser’s findings on federal-provincial transfers will be welcomed by economists, political scientists and the Bloc Quebecois research bureau, particularly if she finds the current mechanisms somehow wanting.

In the aftermath of last summer’s listeriosis outbreak, any audit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that includes the word “risks” will garner attention.

Finally, human resources and information technology management at the Canada Revenue Agency may sound dull, but recall that it was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an ill-conceived database project that led to the cost overruns at the gun registry.