IN THE NEWS ~ Auditors decry federal Games inaction Bureaucrats have failed to identify and prepare for risks associated with Olympics, report says

IDN: 090560194
DATE: 2009.02.25
SECTION: British Columbia N

VANCOUVER 2010: ORGANIZATION COMMITTEE HAS NOT MET SINCE 2005 Auditors decry federal Games inaction Bureaucrats have failed to identify and prepare for risks associated with Olympics, report says

Senior federal bureaucrats have not been paying enough attention to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and their inattention could imperil the success of the Games, a just-released internal government audit warns.

In particular, top-level managers have fallen short in identifying and preparing measures to overcome risks that the Games may face, according to the report, prepared for Ottawa's Olympic secretariat.

"If not addressed, this could have serious implications [for] the staging of the 2010 Winter Games," the report said.

The auditors pointed out that the Winter Games face a range of potential risks, from funding to security to natural hazards, but a committee of deputy ministers struck to provide leadership on such matters in the run-up to the Olympics hasn't met since March, 2005.

"While this may not have posed a risk during the planning phase of the Games, this may create a potential risk during the delivery phase of the Games," the report declared. "It also may have been the basis of concern that was voiced by a number of interviewees about the lack of engagement of senior level management." Auditors found that some in government did not realize they should talk with other Olympic planners, federal officials involved in Games preparations did not even have an overall calendar of key events, and the collection of data has been so poorly organized, it may be difficult for a proper post-Games evaluation of whether Canada reaped the intended benefits of staging the multibillion-dollar extravaganza.

Federal NDP Olympic critic Peter Julian said the audit is a wakeup call for the government.

"The report is saying that there has not been close attention paid to detail," Mr. Julian said. "From a federal perspective, it seems that they're lumbering towards February, 2010. . . . When we're talking billions of dollars, I just don't think that's appropriate." He said the lack of fixed, clear objectives and difficulties in tracking progress, both identified as shortcomings by the auditors, indicate a lack of oversight that could be costly to Canadian taxpayers and have an impact on the Games, themselves.

The ponderously titled "Joint Audit and Formative Evaluation of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Federal Secretariat" scrutinizes four years of planning ending in 2007, aimed at assessing the secretariat's performance and ensuring appropriate management controls are in place.

"Overall, the findings are positive," the authors conclude. But they nonetheless caution that "adjustments are required." as Canada prepares to stage the Games in less than a year.

The 94-page report does not spell out the risks ahead, but makes frequent reference to a catalogue of risks faced by the Olympic Games that is outlined in a document drawn up nearly two years ago.

Officials with the Department of Canadian Heritage, which commissioned the audit, refused to release the risk document.

Although the Olympic secretariat established a committee to identify possible risks, other government departments involved in the Games have not taken potential risks seriously enough, the audit said, failing to establish programs to deal with them, should they occur.

"Program staff in individual departments . . . may be unaware of what is expected and/or may disagree with the nature of the action that needs to be taken," the auditors' report said. "[No evidence was provided] that showed they had been appraised of the key risks and planned mitigation actions.

"In addition, formal assessments of the effectiveness of controls to manage risks were not found." A Canadian Heritage spokesman said the federal secretariat welcomed the auditors' conclusions and is working on an action plan to implement their recommendations.

A spokesman for Gary Lunn, the federal Minister of State for Sport and the Olympics, said he had no comment on the audit.

The federal government is providing $654.65-million toward the direct and indirect costs of staging the 2010 Winter Olympics. That does not include an estimated $648-million for security and $55-million for the Own the Podium program to produce Canadian medalists.