OTTAWA – A frustrated auditor general of Canada says a lack of government funding has created significant technological, cybersecurity and staffing issues for his office, hampering his ability to fulfil his mandate.
“Our main IT system is running on DOS. That creates all sorts of issues for us, both in a security perspective and an operational perspective because they’re not supported anymore. You can’t turn to a supplier and get updates, because they don’t exist. That’s our reality,” interim auditor general Sylvain Ricard told MPs during a meeting of the Public Accounts committee Thursday.
“That’s wild,” a stunned Matthew Green, an NDP MP, responded. His surprise was shared by parliamentarians of all political stripes around the committee table.
DOS, or disk operation system, was very popular from the moment it was introduced in the late-1970s until it gradually faded out of common use in the mid-1990s. It is now considered obsolete.
The Office of the Auditor General’s system was put in place in the late 1980s, according to a spokesperson.
In order to update his office’s technology, Ricard said the he will need an additional $10.8 million in funding from the Trudeau government. He currently manages an annual budget of roughly $88 million.
“In 2017 when we brought forward a request for additional funding, that (issue) was at the heart of it. We just came out of an IT security self-assessment and clearly, the report says we’re not in a good place. At this rate, we will not be in a good place until at least 2022,” he added. He declined to give examples of security issues his office has faced recently.
Beyond cybersecurity and modernization issues, the OAG’s obsolete tech is also making it harder to attract the new generation of auditors and analysts
“You cannot interest young people these days with old technologies. That’s a major challenge for us. Our direct competitors are companies like Deloitte (and) our technology is in the way,” said Ricard.
You can’t turn to a supplier and get updates, because they don’t exist
Those who do decide to work for the auditor general are quickly hit with the sobering reality that many of the tools they learned in school can’t be used at the auditor general’s office.
“For the people who are currently with us, it’s clear that technology is something you need to retain them. The new staff we hire arrive with modern skills, but they aren’t able to use them because they’re in a workplace that is behind by 10 years,” Ricard added in an interview after the committee meeting.
This isn’t the first time the OAG has complained about a lack of funding in recent years. According to a National Post report last May, Ricard warned parliamentarians in the spring of 2019 that he had to cut down the number of annual audits to 14, from an average of 25.
The drop was mostly attributable to an increased workload imposed by the Trudeau government, who expanded the OAG’s mandate to include oversight of a plethora of new public agencies and projects. But no extra money accompanied the extra work.
Among the audits that were postponed were “important” verifications on combating cyber crime, protecting Canada’s North and the government’s travel system.
You can’t have your budget going up and down every year
Nearly one year later, nothing has changed, he said. His office has once again requested an additional $10.8 million in the upcoming 2020-21 budget.
“If we get that new money, the main effect will be to increase the amount of audits to where we were at a few years ago,” he stated.
He also asked MPs to find a new and independent mechanism to adjust his funding in the future, though he stopped short of giving any examples.
“It is not appropriate for us to have to negotiate for our funding with the organizations we audit, he told MPs. But all we’re asking is that our budget be brought back to the same proportion of the government’s spending that it was back in 2011: 0.027 per cent.”
“You also can’t have your budget going up and down every year. It has to be permanent and stable, or else you can’t do much,” he later added in interview.
Of the OAG’s own admission, funding requests to the federal government have been extremely rare.
“We haven’t needed to come ask for funding since I can remember, and I’ve been with the office for 15 years,” said Andrew Hayes, deputy auditor general and interim Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.
The department of Finance did not respond to a request for comment regarding the OAG’s funding.