It looks like Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea may have pushed the boundaries of government’s guidelines for hiring consultants when she brought in former auditor general John Noseworthy.
Noseworthy ran as a candidate for the Tories in the 2011 election five months before he was brought in as a consultant with the government on a contract which paid $98/hour, to a maximum of $150,000. He finished his work with the government in December, and was paid $148,960.
The job was not publicly advertised, and Noseworthy was hired without competition.
That seems to run contrary to the principles outlined in the Newfoundland and Labrador Treasury Board’s “Guidelines Covering the Hiring of External Consultants.”
The policy says that, “It is the intention of Government to employ, to the extent feasible, the practice of requesting multiple proposals when engaging the services of external consultants. Government favours a public request for proposals and encourages departments to use this method whenever it is feasible to do so.”
In circumstances when a public call for proposals may not be the “preferred method” the guidelines say departments and agencies should try to have some sort of competitive process.
“In such cases, departments are to invite proposals from any competent consultants as known to the departments; three proposals being considered as a minimum number,” the document says.
Noseworthy’s job was to study the operations of the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, which was created after the cabinet shuffle following the 2011 election.
The department merged the former department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment as well as the post-secondary education parts for the Department of Education.
More than four months later, Noseworthy was brought in, tasked with studying the works of it and bringing the hodgepodge of divisions together into a single, functioning unit.
The government’s guidelines for the use of consultants say that with Treasury Board approval, a government department can skip public proposals and limit competition among pre-selected consultants if, “there are an insufficient number of consultants” or “a pressing requirement does not provide sufficient time.”
Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea acknowledged her department “didn’t follow the guidelines” in those sections.
She pointed to a different section of the policy, which says, “if any proposed consulting work does not meet these requirements, it is to be referred to Treasury Board for consideration.”
Shea said that in her mind, Noseworthy was “uniquely qualified” to do the job.
“He was a former auditor general. He understood the processes of government, and we had a new department and we wanted to make sure that we understood what we were doing,” she said. “We felt that, based on his skills, he was uniquely qualified to do it, so therefore we didn’t follow the guidelines.”
When asked about the spirit of the policy, which seems to suggest that a competitive selection process should be used whenever possible, Shea said that the bottom line was the department felt Noseworthy was the very best person to do the job, and Treasury Board signed off on it.
“We felt that Mr. Noseworthy had the skills that we could benefit from in this department, and regardless of his political affiliation in the six months leading up to that, it doesn’t take away from the skills that this individual has,” she said.
Noseworthy’s report is still technically in a “draft” form, because when he gave his final presentation to government the week before Christmas, Shea was unable to see it since she was tied up in the House of Assembly with the Muskrat Falls filibuster.
Shea said she expects Noseworthy will come in to give the presentation to her at some point in the next couple of weeks.
The report will only be made public subject to the rules of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Noseworthy declined to be interviewed for this story.