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Privy Council Office  

Part A: Requests carried over from the prior fiscal year (2007-2008)
1. Number of requests carried over: 260
2. Requests carried over from the prior fiscal year— in a deemed-refusal situation on the first day of the new fiscal year 134
Part B: New Requests received in fiscal year 2008-2009— Exclude requests included in Part A
3. Number of requests received during the fiscal period 650
4.A How many were completed within the statutory 30-day time limit? 303
4.B How many were completed beyond the statutory 30-day time limit where no extension was claimed ? 14
4.C How long after the expiry of the statutory 30-day time limit did it take to complete the request where no extension was claimed ?  
  1-30 days: 6
  31-60 days: 2
  61-90 days: 0
  Over 91 days: 6
5. How many were extended pursuant to section 9? 311
6.A How many were completed within the extended time limit? 133
6.B How many exceeded the extended time limit? 36
6.C How long after the expiry of the extended deadline did it take to respond?  
  1-30 days: 4
  31-60 days: 7
  61-90 days: 9
  Over 91 days: 16
7. Number of requests carried over in 2009-2010? 163
8. As of April 1 st , 2009, how many requests are in a deemed-refusal situation? 34
Part C: Contributing Factors
9. Please describe the most significant issues that affected your institution’s ability to respond to access to information requests in a timely manner (within 30 days and/or statutory timelines). These may include:
  • Requests for large volume of records
  • Approval process of access requests
  • Difficulties to retrieve records (OPIs turnaround time)
  • Staff shortages
  • Requests filed in bulk
  • Consultations with other institutions
  • Others
  • As a hub of government, and given the horizontal nature of its work, the Privy Council Office (PCO) controls records that often relate to other government departments or third parties – that may have been written by or contain input from another organization. It is therefore necessary to extend the request period as permitted by section 9 of the Access to Information Act. Consultations with these partners are essential to ensure comprehensive and balanced consideration of the information.
  • In support of the designated Minister under section 70 of the Act, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) sets out the “directives and guidelines concerning the operation of this Act and the regulations”1. Accordingly, the determination of whether a record under the control of a federal department is a Cabinet Confidence rests with Cabinet Confidences Counsel (CCC) in PCO. All government departments, including PCO, must submit records to Cabinet Confidences Counsel for review and certification. This review by CCC necessitates extension under paragraph 9(1)(b). Given the nature of its work, a significant number of PCO records contain Cabinet Confidences.
  • The work of PCO is wide-ranging, detailed, and frequently highly sensitive – including the development of legislation, foreign affairs and policy, matters relating to economic, federal-provincial, national and international security, Cabinet Committees, etc. As a result of this complexity, more time is required for the review of such PCO records than would be necessary for an income tax form or procurement invoice. Extensions taken to accommodate the review of such complex records are both necessary and responsible.
  • Requests to PCO frequently ask for information that involves multiple Offices of Primary Interest, which can increase the volume of records and extend the time necessary for their offices and the ATIP Division to complete the request, including necessary consultations.
  • PCO has worked to improve its turnaround time from OPIs through improved liaison, streamlining of processes and reductions in paper burden. However, in periods where the department is focused on providing intensive support to the government (in moving forward a legislative agenda, or during election periods), extensions under 9(1)(a) (volume) may be necessary.
  • The shortage of qualified personnel in ATIP is a recognized issue across government. Additional government organizations made subject to ATIP legislation in 2006 and the ongoing retirement of ATIP practitioners only increase demand. In this “seller’s market”, departments effectively compete among themselves for a limited pool of workers. PCO has been under-staffed by between two to eight FTEs for the last two years. A shortage of staff and increased file-to-officer ratios inevitably impact the department’s ability to respond to requests in a timely manner.
  • “List” files are requests directed to PCO for lists of briefing notes prepared for the Prime Minister within specific date ranges. In 2008-2009, PCO received 56 such “list” requests, amounting to 9% of its total work volume, all from one requester. The review of “list” files involves substantially more time than is evident from the page count for a given file. Although the lists themselves may only be a few pages in length, they often refer to several hundred pages of documents that require review by OPIs, ATIP Division, and Cabinet Confidences Counsel. Extensions taken under paragraph 9(1)(b) to accommodate this subsection 69(1) review range from 120 to 365 days or longer. The approval process for the reviewed list also takes longer, since each ‘author’ OPI must be consulted for possible exemptions to the list titles themselves. It should be noted that PCO does not frequently extend due dates under paragraph 9(1)(a) (Volume/Interference with Government Operations). Most extensions are taken under paragraph 9(1)(b) of the Act.
  • In its 1999-2000 annual report, the Information Commissioner detailed its views on the administration of extension provisions under the ATIA. With respect to extensions under paragraphs 9(1)(a) and (b) it was stated that “if the extension is claimed under paragraphs 9(1)(a) or (b), the duration of extensions should be consistent with historical experience in the institution in processing similar requests. If the extension is claimed under paragraph 9(1)(b), the duration of the extension should ordinarily not be more than 30 days (which would be the response period if the consulted institution had received the request directly) and rarely, if ever, should such an extension be more than 60 days, taking into account the fact that third parties have a maximum of 60 days to make their views known.” The Commissioner also concluded that “as a general rule, when an institution’s information holdings are well managed, the ATIP unit is adequately resourced, and processing procedures are streamlined, extensions should only be required for a low percentage of requests”.
  • Since then, aaccess requests received by PCO have doubled (FY 1999-2000 to FY 2008-009). Similarly, consultations from other departments have doubled in volume (from 199 received in FY 99/00 to 403 received in FY 08/09). The increase in number of requests received by the PCO is consistent with levels across government departments. Annual reports by the OIC have noted the increase in the number of extensions taken by departments. There is a correlation between these facts which would benefit from deeper analysis. In short, volume increases, staff shortages, increasingly complex files and the need for consultations all directly affect a department’s ability to complete requests without a time extension.
Please describe any practices or policies developed/undertaken by your institution to improve the timely delivery of your access to information program and where possible, indicate how successful these practices/policies have been. These may include:
  • Informal treatment of requests
  • Streamlined approval process
  • Partial release of records
  • Fast track process for common requests
  • Others
  • PCO has one process for all requests. This provides requesters with access to records in a fair and equal manner, in full compliance with the Access to Information Act. The focus of the process is to complete a detailed review and release records with maximum efficiency and minimal impact on PCO Offices of Primary Interest (OPIs). Continuous improvement is pursued as a standard business practice.
  • PCO has addressed the chronic shortage of qualified ATIP personnel through its Officer Development Program, now in operation. The program builds a stable cadre of professionals through four levels of expertise, with skills specific to PCO demands.
  • The time taken under an extension directly relates to the amount of work required to process the request in as short a time as reasonably possible. In order to more accurately define the time required for consultations, PCO ATIP officers check with the party to be consulted about how much time it will need to complete its review. In our view, this constitutes good client service in providing an accurate estimate of when the requester will receive the response. Applicants are advised of this when they are notified in writing of the reason for the extension. The letter also informs the applicant of his/her right to complain to the Information Commissioner about the extension.
Part D: Completion Time
11. What is the average completion time for all requests completed in 2008-2009?
  This number cannot be generated by the PCO case management database. PCO follows the protocol required by TBS and OIC reporting requirements. Time to complete requests is calculated from 1-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days, and over 90 days. To obtain an actual day-count of the average completion time for all requests would require professional reprogramming of the case management software.   It should be noted that PCO is committed to providing the information requested by the OIC. In June 2009, PCO wrote to the OIC requesting “ order to more fully harmonize the reporting relationship, [that] PCO be advised of any new areas of statistical investigation [the OIC] may introduce, beyond those found in the 2007-2008 Questionnaire. Notification of any changes to requirements will assist PCO in meeting its obligations under the Access to Information Act, and ensure its data gathering remains comprehensive and relevant.”
Part E: Statistical Report on the Access to Information Act
12. Please attach your institution’s completed Report on the Access to Information (Form TBS/SCT 350-62) for the 2008-2009.