What happened to “service”?

I’ve discovered as I’ve aged that my tolerance for some things becomes less and less. I have this crazy, idealogical concept that government and the public service is actually about, well, serving the public, so it’s no surprise that the National Online Licensing System can generally make me rant like an angry monkey. Let’s just say the DFO’s explanation of their service standards yesterday was one of those things:

 

 

We often hear from clients who are wondering how long it takes for licensing to process a request, from the time we receive it to completion. The following information will provide you with DFO Licensing service delivery standards. Below are most of the services that licensing provides online with an approximate time for that service to be completed. This should provide guidance for your clients so they can plan ahead. Please feel free to post it in your office for fishers to read.

2 Business Days:

– Request licence conditions – 2 business days (if conditions are ready when requested)
– E-mail/voicemail inquiries – 2 business days (advice, licensing policy information)

*(Licensing does not accept requests for service by voicemail. Any voicemail requests for services that are available in NOLS receive a standard e-mailed response).

*(Licensing endeavours to respond within 2 business days; however, high volumes and staff shortages can contribute to a longer response time)

5 Business Days:

– Fisher Registration renewal
– Licence renewal
– Vessel Registration renewal
– Vessel Transfer
– Substitute operator (medical, vacation, etc.) 5 business days (30 days for medical over 5 years)
– Vessel Transfer
– Request licence conditions

30 Business Days:

– New fisher registration
– New vessel registration
– Licence re-issuance (licence transfers, combining)
– Stacking/partnership arrangements – 30 business days
– Applying for new licences (recreational, marine plants)
– Other Licensing Services not listed (requests for information, etc.)

I’m all for planning ahead. However, the reality of an industry that is weather dependent doesn’t always lend itself to planning ahead. After stepping back for a many hours, I realized the motivation behind the timelines had nothing to do with actual, realistic timelines.  The timelines are about “hedging their bets” and making sure that there is enough time padded in that there is no opportunity to complain when reasonable, real world timelines are not met. Why? Because the “service standards” aren’t actually about service.  It’s about diluting an important “service” to the lowest possible “standard.” The Licensing branch used to be the shining star of the Department: helpful people who worked with industry to provide the paperwork needed for fishermen to legally be on the water fishing. Those people are still there, but they are isolated behind a wall of technology and are no longer able to deal with the public one on one.

 

What’s lost in all this is that fishermen are small business owners who are generally employing at least 2 (or more) other people. Without timely processing of licensing requests – they don’t go fishing. Two days as a standard to process any request is ridiculous. 30 days for a new fisherman registration means you either go fishing short on crew (lost employment opportunity) or without valid paperwork (illegally fishing). Is it wrong to expect that a Department with “Fisheries” in its title should actually be about assisting the fishery? What makes me the most “ranty” is that the industry has done its best to adjust to these changes. They’ve tried to make it work because they have no choice. The inflexibility of the Department regarding pieces of NOLS that don’t work (particularly timeliness and personal contact) is incomprehensible.

 

Time is money, and delays in licensing processing cost real people real money. In a day and age when things move faster than ever, why is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans moving to a system whose “standard” is slower than it was 20 years ago when we were operating with a landline telephone and thermal paper fax machine?

 

4 thoughts on “What happened to “service”?

    1. Indeed. It doesn’t even make sense when you talk about it in those terms. Especially when you consider the administrative intervention is minimal on some of those items.

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