06 September 2012

As the Public Service World Churns #nlpoli

The Telegram editorial on Wednesday noted the most recent changes to the senior executive at the natural resources department and put it in the wider context of changes during the past 20 months.  The editorial notes that in the budget document for 2011 called Departmental Salary Details show that

the province had 20 deputy ministers, four associate deputy ministers and 61 assistant deputy ministers — a total of 85 positions at the top of the provincial civil service.

In the last 20 months, Dunderdale has announced 54 appointments at the level of assistant deputy minister or higher.

To paraphrase the editorial, maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t matter that their figures show a 63% turnover in senior provincial public service management.

If you look at the period since Kathy Dunderdale became premier you will see that the Telegram missed a fair bit. If you drill deeper again and look at the pattern of changes, you can see even more.

For starters, the Telegram numbers aren’t complete.  Let’s start in December 2010, the month Kathy Dunderdale took office as Premier.

Let’s include changes to the provincial public service.  The figures do not include executive directors even though executive directors are public service appointments made by the lieutenant governor in council. The changes also don’t include political staff that may be considered equivalent to certain public service positions for pay purposes.

The figures do include the confirmation of people already serving in an acting capacity.  These reflect staffing decisions that warranted a public announcement.

63%?  More like 85%.

Based on news releases issued by the provincial government, she has made a total of 72 changes at the deputy minister, associate deputy minister and assistant deputy minister level between December 2010 and September 4, 2012.

That works out to the equivalent of 84.7% of the 85 positions identified by the Telegram. The Telegram editorial counted 54 changes for a total of 63% of the positions.

In her first year in office – December 2010 to December 2011 – Dunderdale made 39 appointments. Since January 2012, she has made a further 33 changes at the level of assistant deputy minister and above.

By comparison, Danny Williams announced changes to 28 positions in the senior public service in each of 2009 and 2010.

The Swirl is Centred in the Centre

The largest number of appointments involved the government’s centre agency, the Executive Council, and all its subordinate agencies and secretariats.

Two positions changed twice inside a year.  They were the assistant secretary to cabinet for social policy and the assistance secretary to cabinet for economic policy.

For the most part, though, when you break down all the components of the Executive Council, they followed the pattern in the line departments. Of the 25 agencies and departments across government that were affected by senior executive changes, 16 had only one or two changes in the period since December 2010.  Seven had three or four changes.

Hop, hop…

There’s only one department left.  let’s get to it by following one of the more interesting series of changes.  All involve a single person who bounced between the two parts of government that had the most changes of all.

On March 11, 2011,  Kathy Dunderdale promoted Tracy English from her position as executive director for energy policy in natural resources to be assistant deputy minister in the intergovernmental affairs secretariat.

A little over a year later – April 10, 2012 -  English got another promotion:  to acting deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs.

On September 4, 2012, English moved back to natural resources as assistant deputy minister (energy).

The Centre on the Line

Considering all the agencies and departments that experienced some change in senior management since December, 2010, natural resources is by far the department that has had the most.

The Premier has announced no fewer than 11 changes at the assistant deputy minister and deputy minister level in that time.

And if we separate out two changes at the forestry and agrifoods agency, the mines and energy branches of that department have seen nine changes in less than 24 months.

To put that in some perspective, the department total – 11 changes – is almost three times the number of changes in finance, human resources, child youth and family services, fisheries and aquaculture and education, all of which had four changes. That would mean that mines and energy alone had twice the number of changes of any other department or agency in government.

The department has had three deputy ministers in two years.

Look at them individually and you get a sense of the magnitude of the turnover:

To give a sense of how rapidly the changes have been coming, take a look at the department’s website where it lists the departmental contact information.  Not only is the deputy minister still listed as Diana Dalton a couple of days after she’d been replaced, the website still shows Vanessa Newhook as the ADM for royalties and benefits.  She was replaced in April. other positions show different titles for ADMS than the ones that showed up in government announcements.



The Telegram editorial noted that some of the changes came as a result of retirements or, as in the case of Vanessa Newhook, a resignation to take a private sector job.

Retirement is a logical cause for senior executive changes.  Assistant deputy ministers and higher are typically senior public servants close to the end of their careers.  Their pension packages are based on their best earning years.  Over the past decade, salaries have never been higher. It would make some sense that we would enter a period where senior public servants eligible to retire might consider going out with very good pensions.

While one would have to undertake a much more detailed study to be sure, a cursory glace at the existing announcements suggests that retirement does not appear to be the cause of even half the 72 changes in the senior public service since  December 2010.

Another potential explanation for announcements would be changes to the number of departments.  Indeed, Kathy Dunderdale has changed the ministry to create a new department and reorganize some others.   Indeed, some of the changes have been related to new departments.

Neither of those potential explanations explain the flurry of changes in the mines and energy branches of the natural resources department.  They certainly do not explain the sudden departure of the deputy minister and the two new appointments that followed so rapidly that the news release merely offered congratulations to “these individuals”.