The Auditor General of Alberta is criticizing the province’s municipal affairs department for transitioning its disaster recovery program (DRP) while dealing with the 2013 floods in the southern portion of the province.
“The lesson to be learned here is not to transition a program in the midst of dealing with a large natural disaster,” the Office of the Auditor General of Alberta said in a press statement, released on Wednesday along with the February 2016 report. “While the decision to move program delivery from a contracted service provider to the Department of Municipal Affairs might have been sound, the timing was not. The department did not have the capacity to re-design the program delivery model and implement a new IT system. The few project managers and dedicated resources the department had working on the transition were also dealing with the 2013 southern Alberta disaster.”
The report noted that between 1995 and 2015, the Alberta government used a contracted service provider to offer evaluation, processing and administrative disaster recovery services. In March 2014, the minister announced that the department would not renew the service provider’s contract, which expired at that time. The minister then signed a one-year transition contract with the service provider and the department transitioned delivery of the DRP from the contracted service provider to itself, effective March 2015.
“However, the department must further improve its program delivery services to achieve the desired results,” the report said. “It has started making these improvements. We believe that once the department has completed implementing its transition work plan, Alberta will have in place a more effective and efficient disaster recovery program.” [click image below to enlarge]
After the floods occurred in June 2013, the department recommended in November of that year that the minister extend the service provider’s contract for two years, until March 2016, the report said. “The department identified the significant risks of changing the service delivery model at that time, including the volume of claims from the 2013 southern Alberta floods and the number of incomplete disaster recovery programs from previous years.”
The program received over 10,000 applications, “an amount that far exceeded any previous disaster events,” the report said.
The Auditor General also found that the department did not identify an adequate IT system early in its transition planning. “This failure resulted in the department implementing an IT system that could not be integrated with its current financial system or generate payments.”
“Disasters can happen anytime – it is just a matter of when,” the report added. “The department must have adequate systems and processes to respond expeditiously when disasters happen. It must ensure that those affected receive the financial assistance necessary via the disaster recovery program, efficiently and consistently.”
The department has paid more than $903 million under various DRPs since 2010, including nearly $737 million in 2013/2014. Municipalities and provincial government departments received 82% of total payments, while residential and other applications received 18%.