An investigation by Alberta’s Public Interest Commissioner has found two managers with the Government of Alberta’s department of Innovation and Advanced Education and one manager with Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures committed wrongdoing.
Between October and December 2014, the Commissioner received several disclosures of wrongdoing from a whistleblower, who alleged staff in both the department and Alberta Innovates manipulated a procurement evaluation process to ensure eight preferred individuals were top candidates for contracts with potential or real values exceeding $100,000 each.
The investigation revealed gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset under section 3(1)(c) under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act. This wrongdoing occurred in seven instances when the department contracted with IT vendors, and in one instance when Alberta Innovates contracted with an IT vendor. The Commissioner’s investigation also found managers with both entities knowingly directed or counselled others to commit a wrongdoing under section 3(1)(d) of the Act.
“Because a whistleblower brought concerns to our office, we were able to confirm the frequency, duration and nature of the manipulations were a clear departure from the approved process and objective of open procurement,” said Peter Hourihan, the Public Interest Commissioner. “These acts undermine confidence and trust in government generally, and in procurement specifically.
“Our expectation is the department and Alberta Innovates implement appropriate changes to address these issues, including efforts to remedy a culture of acceptance surrounding these practices. Both authorities should also consider appropriate disciplinary action.”
None of the employees involved acted out of personal gain, but rather to simplify the hiring process and ensure their preferred candidates were successful in the contracting process.
The Commissioner’s report outlines recommendations to both entities to help ensure similar problems are not repeated, including:
- Modifying procurement policies and procedures to ensure safeguards are in place, such as:
- Implementing detailed procedures to help employees or contracted services manage evaluation processes by validating submissions for accuracy, scoring submissions, assigning weighted values to required or desired skills and experience, and establishing minimum standards and processes once short lists are produced;
- Providing training to ensure employees understand and fulfill their responsibilities to comply with approved processes, and identifying and addressing ethical dilemmas; and
- Implementing evaluation and selection audit schedules.
The Commissioner’s investigation reviewed procurement documents, trade agreements, disclosure materials, and departmental and Alberta Innovates policies and procedures. Twenty individuals were interviewed or provided information.
The full investigation report can be found here.