Saturday, June 04, 2016

Going dark(er): CSE employee numbers no longer published

The federal government has published statistics on-line on the number of employees in its various departments and agencies since at least 2005. The statistics in this "Population Affiliation Report" were updated monthly, and the Communications Security Establishment was among the agencies whose staff numbers were reported.

The CSE numbers provided an important way to keep track of the evolution of the agency—one of the very few ways available. To prevent their disappearing into the memory hole I made a point of recording these monthly numbers on this blog. (Here are the earliest and most recent examples.)

Unfortunately, the February 2016 numbers, which were published in March, look like the last ones we are going to get. The Treasury Board Secretariat has stopped publishing the statistics.

According to the reply I received when I asked the good folks at TBS why the numbers had stopped appearing, the "internal sources" that the report draws from are currently under review. A public update on plans for the report is promised at the end of the summer, but it doesn't sound like the prior practice is going to pick up where it left off.

The shutdown applies to the entire Population Affiliation Report (i.e., to all the departments and agencies), and I don't see any reason to think that it was intended specifically to stop the reporting of CSE's employee counts. But it certainly has had that effect.

The blackout comes at an unfortunate time, as just a couple of months ago the agency's new minister, Minister of National Defence Sajjan, directed CSE to "find new opportunities to communicate with the public more openly about their activities."

So far, CSE's primary response to that directive has been to launch a Twitter account featuring links to the agency's website and lighthearted comments on donuts. It has not inspired them to reverse the significant shutdown in public reporting that took place in 2011.

And I would venture to guess that those new communications opportunities will also not include monthly reporting on CSE's employee counts.

It may be that the Treasury Board's review will lead eventually to such statistics being accessible in some other form, in keeping with the broader trend towards greater public access to government data and the professed philosophy of the new Liberal government.

But for now, at least, the public picture of what goes on at Canada's national cryptologic agency just got a little bit darker.


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