Public Service Commission president Anne-Marie Robinson

Public Service Commission president Anne-Marie Robinson waits to appear before the Senate Official Languages committee in Ottawa, Monday April 2, 2012. The federal agency, which polices the hiring practices of government departments, has audited its own hiring practices - and gives itself a bad grade. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A federal agency that polices the hiring practices of government departments has audited its own hiring practices — and gives itself a bad grade.

The Public Service Commission of Canada rapped its own knuckles in a report last week that found the agency did not abide by a policy that requires hiring based on merit.

The self-audit found that in almost a third of a sample of 40 hires since 2010, the agency failed to show the final decision was based on the qualifications of the winning candidate.

The agency also did not search far enough afield for suitable job candidates whenever a post came open.

The review goes on to cite administrative flubs, missing paperwork and flouting of basic rules.

The agency says it accepts all of the self-criticism and promises itself to do better in future.

"The Public Service Commission ... has reviewed the Public Service Commission ... audit report and accepts its findings and recommendations," says the report, tabled in Parliament last week.

The commission, which spent $96 million in 2012-2013, has a mandate "to promote and safeguard merit-based appointments" across all of government.

'Valuable insight'

The agency also oversees the priority placement of medically released Canadian Forces members into jobs throughout the public service, a policy the federal government promised last week to strengthen through new legislation.

But the audit says the Public Service Commission, which has about 900 staff, may not itself have given these priority persons "proper consideration" in the sample of new hires it examined.

Spokeswoman Tanya Sirois says the president of the commission, Anne-Marie Robinson, "removed herself from any discussion or governance around the conduct of the audit." Instead, two part-time commissioners oversaw the audit process.

The agency also paid a private-sector firm, Interis Consulting Inc., $35,000 to review the quality of the internal audit.

The commission had considered contracting out the audit, but concluded the work was too specialized and needed to be consistent with audits the agency carries out on other departments.

Robinson said in an email the exercise "provided valuable insight into our own organization which we may not have seen otherwise, and allowed us to identify and correct certain issues."

The implementation of the plan to fix the problems will be verified by a third party, she added.

The commission last week released 11 other hiring audits of government departments, many of whom were given better grades than the agency gave itself.

The Public Service Commission's annual budget for auditing is about $3.7 million.