Ottawa has made little progress in helping Canadians access its online services easily, the federal auditor general has found.
In his latest report, issued this week, Michael Ferguson said the government has not significantly expanded its service offerings since 2005, when a five year government online initiative expired, despite a lot of effort and spending.
More importantly, there are few government services where a user can complete all necessary transactions online without having to follow-up in person.
For example, the report notes, while individuals have been able to apply for Employment Insurance (EI) online since 2003, the have to call or go to a government office to find out the status of their application.
While Service Canada has been created for citizens to set up an account to get single-portal access to their EI, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security information, they can’t do everything online.
Federal departments still don’t share basic information such as an individual’s address – in fact a person dealing with Canada Revenue, Human Resources and Veterans Affairs would have to make five online changes to their profile if their address changes (for their income tax, employment insurance, a student loan, a veteran’s account and Canada Pension Plan/Old Age Security).
“There is no incentive for departments to share information,” the report says bluntly.
By contrast, the report notes, Ontario and Quebec centrally manage changes of address online.
“There is no government-wide strategy to guide departments on how online services should be delivered, and not all departments have developed integrated service delivery strategies that have identified key factors such as costs, benefits, and consideration of client expectations,” said the report.
“This has limited the opportunity for the government to identify and move toward cost-effective service delivery alternatives that address the expectations of Canadians.”
This may be one reason why public satisfaction with federal online service has stagnated. The report notes that in 2005 the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service reported users of government Web services had a satisfaction rating of 59 per cent –. the highest client satisfaction rating achieved by the federal government for its services.
But last year on average only 56 percent of people were satisfied with the service they received.
The report also notes that while once Canada was seen as a world leader in bringing online government to citizens, United Nations studies on the development of e-government have Canada dropping to 11th place in 2012 from third in 2010 among 190 countries studied.
“The integration of service delivery and the sharing of information among departments are limited,” the report added. “Individuals and businesses must work with departments separately, which frequently requires them to provide the same information multiple times. For example, departments require individuals’ current address information for their programs, but this information is not centrally managed and it is not shared among departments. When individuals move, they must advise each department separately of their new address. In the case of some departments, individuals are required to separately inform each program of their change of address.”
The government has introduced services to enable individuals to do business online with departments securely, the report says. On the other hand, multiple steps are required to set up a secure account and then enroll in a program – and users must repeat that for each department they want to work with.
For example, a retired veteran wanting to manage his benefits and taxes must first set up a secure account and then follow different enrolment processes with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (Service Canada), Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
While he would have immediate access to his VAC account, he would have to wait five to 10 days to receive separate security codes in the mail for accessing the other two accounts.
As is the noral practice, the report issued circulated its recommendations to departments before making the report public.
Treasury Board and Human Resources agreed to work with departments to develop a government-wide service delivery strategy to be released by March 2015.
Employment and social development minister Jason Kenney, who oversees Service Canada, said in a statement his department is working with others to improve the quality of online services.