Academic journal article Journal of the Society of Research Administrators

Administration of Technical Research in Canada's Federal Department of Transport

Academic journal article Journal of the Society of Research Administrators

Administration of Technical Research in Canada's Federal Department of Transport

Article excerpt



The article highlights recent improvements in the administration of technological research within a large government department. Initiatives addressing both efficiency and effectiveness have led to a well-developed program, more participative management, wider linkages, and quicker dissemination of technology. The need for continuing improvements is stressed through identification of some future initiatives. The approaches and initiatives outlined could find wider application.


The twin problems of efficiency and effectiveness in research administration are common to all large organizations. Efficiency pertains to the deployment of resources, both funds and personnel. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is a measure of the results achieved--their relevance and their impact. Canada's federal Department of Transport, known as Transport Canada, is a large organization whose recent initiatives for improved effectiveness and efficiency may have implications for other large research organizations.

Transport Canada has a current annual expenditure of some 3.5-billion-dollars, and a staff of over 20,000. About one-third of its expenditure comprises statutory grants or subsidies for passenger rail, ferries, and provincial highways. The department provides and operates a host of services such as airports, air traffic control, port terminals, marine navigation aids, icebreaking, and search and rescue. Also, it develops and monitors regulations such as for airworthiness, vehicle safety, and transport of dangerous goods. The department's first corporate priority is to ensure safety in transportation.

The annual funding for technological research within Transport Canada is made up of base funding supplemented by short-term controlled allotments for specific programs. The toral allocation thus varies; it peaked at 35-million-dollars during FY 1984-1985 and dipped to 21-million-dollars during FY 1987-1988. The personnel resources for research also declined from about 110 to 80 during the same period, in conjuction with a government-wide downsizing.

Although the department is technology-based, it devotes less than 1 percent of its total funds to research. There is some rationale for this low level of effort: transportation draws upon basic/enabling technologies developed elsewhere, most product-related research is done by industry, and transportation is a relatively mature sector.

Over two-thirds of the department's funds for technological research are managed through the Transportation Development Centre (TDC). This centre is part of the central corporate group in the department and is located in Montreal, the hub of the transportation industry in Canada. The rest of the research funds are dispersed among the department's four Operational Groups: airports, aviation, marine, and surface.

Transport Canada largely contracts its research activities to industry pursuant to government-wide policy. Contracts are also awarded to universities whenever justifiable on the basis of their unique expertise. In-house laboratory research is small and confined mainly to the area of air traffic control.

At any time, the contract research portfolio in Transport Canada, mainly at TDC, comprises some 300 projects at various stages of implementation. Their total estimated cost ranges from 40 to 50-million-dollars. The average project duration is 15 months. About 100 projects enter and exit the portfolio every year. EAch project officer at TDC is typically engaged in developing and managing 8 to 12 projects on an ongoing basis.


Two recent internal developments at Transport Canada have addressed almost all of five essential ingredients for efficiency in research administration:

(1) well-defined mandate and objectives,

(2) secure and stable funding,

(3) adequate and appropriate personnel,

(4) participating management, and

(5) networking. …

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