OTTAWA - The country's top bureaucrat has ordered a "workplace assessment" of the RCMP to help massage internal conflict amid concerns Mountie Commissioner William Elliott is rubbing senior staff the wrong way.

Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters will appoint an independent adviser to look into the turmoil after senior members of the force complained about bullying and abusive behaviour by the force's first civilian commissioner.

The adviser, who has yet to be named, will decide the scope and timing of the assessment, to be delivered to the Public Safety Department, the agency that oversees the RCMP. The results will not be made public since the government considers the quarrel an internal human resources matter.

Insiders said Tuesday that two senior members, Raf Souccar, deputy commissioner for federal policing, and Tim Killam, deputy commissioner of police support services, lodged a complaint about Elliott with the deputy minister of Public Safety.

It is believed that five to eight other Mounties one rung beneath the two veterans also signed on to the grievance against Elliott, which quickly made its way to the Privy Council clerk, then to the Prime Minister's Office.

Neither the RCMP, nor Elliott had an official comment on the simmering dispute Tuesday.

But Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was troubled by the controversy and that he hoped the assessment moved along swiftly.

"Our government expects this to occur expeditiously and without further rancour," Toews said in a statement late Tuesday. "Frankly, it is unacceptable for individuals in leadership positions in an organization as important as the RCMP to air internal disputes through the news media."

Elliott, who's never been a police officer, was appointed three years ago to overhaul the problem-plagued national institution.

A former national security adviser to the prime minister, he brought considerable knowledge about public safety issues — particularly the fight against terrorism — to the post.

But insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, say his intimidating ways may have alienated key members of the force's senior executive.

The allegations left one expert wondering whether the damage can be repaired.

The workplace assessment is "too little, too late," said Linda Duxbury, a Carleton University business professor who has done extensive consulting work for the RCMP.

"Can Bill Elliott work with his leadership team any more? Realistically, I would really question that," she said.

"The foundation on which the culture of policing rests is one of trust."

Duxbury said she was surprised the complainants went outside the force to air their concerns. "That is so not the RCMP."

Two sources familiar with Elliott's style rejected the notion he's simply run into resistance from senior police officers to the major transformation he's trying to achieve at the RCMP.

"I don't think change is the friction issue," said one. "I think it's the case of management style."

One source who has long known Souccar and Killam said of the senior officers: "These are not whiners."

"I know there have been rumblings for a significant period of time about the relationship between the commissioner and his leadership team," said another insider who has heard first-hand reports about Elliott's behaviour.

"Bullying, yelling, screaming, disrespect is wrong. And you don't get change by bullying people into it. You get it by convincing people that they want to go where you want to go.

"I think it's the lack of listening that frustrated people the most."

A source also dismissed the idea that senior members are ganging up on Elliott because he's an outsider who hasn't walked a beat.

"I think they actually thought there was some merit in the early days to a civilian being there, that would allow them to look quite candidly at what was transpiring.

"The commissioner doesn't have to run with a gun on his hip and do things. I mean, he's expected to manage and help organize."

The infighting comes as the force struggles to modernize to meet new challenges.

A heavy load and tight budgets have sapped morale, said RCMP Staff Sgt. Mike Harvey, one of the force's staff relations representatives.

"We're understaffed and overworked," said Harvey. "That's a huge issue right across the country."