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Confidential Report Finds Serious Management Deficiencies In DIA

Doug Cuthand

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      AUGUST 1977      v07 n08 p33  
"The department of Indian affairs (DIA) has serious management problems in that the management decision making processes are not defined and decision making criteria are unclear," states a confidential report on management information systems in the DIA prepared by Quasar Systems Limited of Ottawa

The report reached the conclusion that improvements are necessary for two reasons.

First, to comply with law, government-wide regulation and good management.

And second, to establish indian affairs' credibility with Parliament, central agencies of government and the public.

The report contains a total of 45 recommendations and suggests that the department is not concerned in developing better information systems.

"The process of information system development is inadequate. Lack of senior management leadership and allocation of insufficient resources have added to the difficulties of development and operation of management information systems."

"It is entirely likely," the report states, "that better management information could help the Indian program free up at least 10 per cent of its budget."

If passed on to Indians this hypothetical $60 million per year represents an average of $100,000 per band.

The DIA's management system and framework is ill-defined and ineffective, the report says.

"Operational policy and processes are ill-defined.

"No clear distinction exists between operational processes, which deliver services, and management processes, which plan, organize, lead and control the operational processes.

"Management decision-making processes are not defined; there is no common understanding, in department or client community, of the management process.

"Roles with respect to the management decisions are unclear. The roles of Indian client community, political association and the department in the management of the Indian program are not clear.

"Lack of a management system willing and able to define policies and provide plans, leadership and adequate communication, has led to low morale in the department and frustration in Indian bands," the report charges.

"Fear of accountability for decisions has been one reason that the department has been unwilling in the past to define its decision-making processes, roles and decision criteria.

"Observation of the workings of the department over a period of a few months led to the conclusion that decisions at all levels tend to be taken by committees of equals where possible, partially to achieve the benefits of consultation but also to diffuse responsibility.

"Decisions are communicated verbally or informally rather than systematically in writing according to a defined process. Decision-making criteria are often not recorded.

"In summary there is often no audit trail for decisions."

"Management of the department uses the excuse of 'having to be able to provide a flexible response to changing needs' to permit 'ad hocracy' in decision making.

"In this way, any possibility of quantitative managerial assessment is avoided."

On the other hand it is concluded the Indian program is probably the most highly politically charged program within the federal government.

The condition of Indian life leads to continuing political input to the managerial process.

The report said developing conclusions to the study was difficult because the DIA's' objectives were not clear,. management decision making processes were not defined and its decision criteria were vague.

However, the following systems were analyzed and conclusions were reached.

The report says a key problem in the operation of almost all Indian affairs' information systems is lack of clarity about the department's information requirements when program management responsibilities are assumed by bands, as well as lack of enforcement of requirements for information.

The lengthy list of recommendations deal mainly with information Systems but as the report states: "The general conclusion of this work is that there are serious management problems that should be addressed before development of a management information services program, on a broad front, is contemplated."

Doug Cuthand is a Federation of Saskatchewan Indians [FSI] researcher.