Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.


Previous   Table of contents   Next

Assessing the Access to Information Performance of Government Institutions (Report Cards)

For almost nine years, the Office of the Information Commissioner has been pro-actively reviewing and grading the performance of government institutions in respecting the Access to Information Act (the Act). Those reviews, which have come to be known as "report cards", play several roles:

First, they help the Information Commissioner appreciate the entirety of an institution’s performance in administering the access to information

Second, they serve to encourage government institutions to put access to information performance higher on their list of priorities. Ministers and Deputy Ministers don’t want to receive grades that reflect poorly on their leadership.

Third, report cards create and disseminate a wealth of information across government about "best practices" in administering the access to information program, as they are focused on encouraging government institutions to achieve success through sound administrative processes, training, and work tools, as well as sufficient staff.

Fourth, report cards assist Parliament in playing a more targeted and focused oversight role. For example, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has called senior officials from the institutions which received failing grades to respond to the report cards and explain their plans to get better grades in future.

Finally, since the inception of the report card reviews, the number of complaints of delay received by the Information Commissioner has dropped from in excess of 50% of the office’s workload in 1997 to a low of 14.5% in 2003-2004. In this reporting year, some 23% of complaints related to delay.

As a result of the report card process, there has been a significant new infusion of resources for the access to information program in many institutions, an improvement in the timeliness of responses to access requests, and more knowledgeable application of the law’s exemptions so as to keep the zone of secrecy in government to the minimum authorized by the Act.

Grading Scale

The grade given to an institution is based on the percentage of access requests it answers late. The Act establishes mandatory response deadlines and deems a request to have been denied if the answer is late. Grades are based on the following standards:

% of Requests Received Which End as Deemed Refusals

% of deemed refusals

Comment

Grade

0-5%

Ideal Compliance

A

5-10%

Substantial Compliance

B

10-15%

Borderline Compliance

C

15-20%

Below Standard Compliance

D

More than 20 %

Red Alert

F

In this reporting year, report card reviews were conducted on 17 institutions. The results are set out in the following table, and the percentage of requests deemed to have been refused (late) includes requests received in the previous fiscal year that were carried over in this fiscal year.

GRADING FROM 1998 TO 2006

(for the period April 1 to November 30)

 

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

AAFC

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

21.9%

F

38.7%

A

3.8%

CBSA

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

69.0%

CIC

F

F

D

C

A

D

C

13.8%

D

15.3%

B

7.9%

DFAIT

F

F

F

D

B

D

F

28.8%

F

60.1%

D

17.2%

Fin

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

C

11.9%

B

7.9%

F&O

-

-

F

F

A

A

B

5.2%

C

12.7%

B

5.9%

HCan

F

A

-

-

A

B

D

18.2%

D

18.9%

F

21.9%

IC

-

-

-

-

-

F

D

16.2%

B

5.9%

B

8.1%

IRB

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

39.1%

A

0.0%

Jus

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

43.5%

F

38.8%

F

37.3%

LAC

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

70%

F

55.5%

A

3.8%

ND

F

F

D

C

B

B

B

9.5%

C

14.8%

B

8.7%

PCO

F

A

-

-

D

A

F

26.5%

F

31.9%

F

25.3%

PS

(PSEPC)

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

21.1%

D

18.9%

PWGSC

-

-

-

-

F

C

D

17.7%

B

7.3%

B

9.7%

RCMP

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

F

79.0%

F

67.0%

TC

-

F

F

C

D

D

B

7.2%

B

9.2%

D

16.6%

From "F" to "A"

Nine institutions improved their grade over last year - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), Finance Canada (Fin), Fisheries & Oceans Canada (F&O), Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), Library and Archives Canada (LAC), National Defence (ND), and Public Safety Canada (PS). Of those, three moved from "F" to "A" - kudos to AAFC, IRB, and LAC for rising to the challenge and for making it a priority in their institutions to do what is necessary to answer access requests in a timely way.

The other six institutions showing improved grades (CIC, DFAIT, Fin, F&O, ND, and PSEPC) have more work to do, but they have solid plans in place to bring them into ideal compliance in the near future.

No Change

Five institutions showed no change in their grade over last year (Industry Canada (IC), Justice Canada (Jus), Privy Council Office (PCO), Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)). Of these, three institutions (Jus, PCO, and RCMP) have, again, received failing grades; indeed, Justice and PCO have received failing grades for three years in a row.

Senior officials from two of these three institutions (Jus and PCO) were called before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in October 2005 to discuss their failing grade on the Commissioner’s 2004-2005 report cards. PCO promised to solve its delay problem by March 31, 2006; Jus promised to do so by March 31, 2008.

It is particularly important, as a matter of leadership example to all other government institutions, that the Prime Minister’s department and the department of the Minister who is responsible for the Access to Information Act succeed in getting an "A". The magnitude of the administrative challenges they face is modest by comparison with other institutions which have moved themselves in relatively short order from an "F" to an "A".

Justice - There is reason to be optimistic that Justice Canada will succeed in improving its grade by next year. The department has put the necessary resources and processes in place, and senior management is closely monitoring progress.

Privy Council Office - The problems seem more serious at PCO, despite improvements in process and increases in resources. The chronic inability of PCO to answer a modest workload of access to information requests (less than 600 per year) has much to do with a burdensome and unusual approval process. PCO’s ATIP Coordinator does not hold a full delegation of authority to answer access requests. For example, the ATIP Coordinator, since September 2005, may invoke mandatory exemptions. However, delegation to apply the Act’s discretionary exemptions rests with ADM-level and higher officials (some 16 positions). Senior officials make the discretionary decisions on disclosure of the records for which they are functionally responsible. As well, senior officials have no special training or expertise with respect to the requirements of, or their obligations as decision-makers under, the Act.

This top-heavy approach - virtually unique in government - not only slows the process, but also means that the deciders are not prone to playing a meaningful challenge function for openness.

A random file review indicated no evidence that any discretion was exercised by senior officials applying discretionary exemptions. Most of the files contained no documentation as to whether any factors pro- and con-disclosure were considered, or the weight assigned to them. Indeed, some senior officials seemed entirely unfamiliar with the legal concept of "discretion" and the obligations to be discharged by decision-makers when making a discretionary decision about individual rights.

This anomaly in PCO’s delegation of authority runs counter to representations made by PCO senior officials, in the Fall of 2005, to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. PCO officials stated that a full delegation of decision-making authority would be made to the ATIP Coordinator. That same undertaking was made to the Information Commissioner and formed part of the basis on which the Commissioner authorized PCO to inform the Standing Committee that the Commissioner supported PCO’s action plan to solve its delay problem.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police - The RCMP is floundering badly. It does not have a coherent plan in place with specific deliverables and target dates. It is experiencing resourcing difficulties in recruiting, training, and retaining qualified analysts. Operational needs in other areas of the RCMP are routinely given priority over the ATIP program, and senior management has not taken a hands-on interest in monitoring performance. While it is true that the RCMP has a large workload of access requests with which to cope, it can, and must, do better.

For all five of the "stalled" institutions, the Office of the Information Commissioner has made specific recommendations to assist these institutions in kick-starting their efforts. Details of the report card findings and recommendations can be viewed on the Information Commissioner’s website.

Getting Worse

Two institutions (Health Canada (HCan) and Transport Canada (TC)) received a lower grade this year than last year. HCan went from a grade of "D" at 18.9% to an "F" at 21.9%, and TC went from a grade of "B" at 9.2% to a grade of "D" at 16.6%, which is almost doubled from last year.

The departments explain their results as being due to a significant increase in the number of requests received from the previous year and a shortage of staff at the time (35% for HCan and 50% for TC). As well, TC is still faced with a staffing shortfall problem while HCan indicated its difficulty with records retrieval, the consultation process, and the approval process.

This office will work with both departments to develop a plan to come into ideal compliance without undue delay.

First Report Card

This year, for the first time, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was the subject of a report card review and received a failing grade. Some 69% of the access requests it received from April 1 to November 30, 2006, were answered late.

A number of factors account for this poor record, including the fact that the institution was only recently created, it faces resource shortfalls in many areas, it received an unexpected volume of access requests, and experienced difficulties in recruiting, training, and retaining ATIP analysts.

The good news is that CBSA management has reacted swiftly, constructively, and forcefully to address the problem of delay. Significant additional resources have been devoted to the ATIP program, an action plan has been developed with the assistance of Consulting and Audit Canada, and careful monitoring of progress has been implemented by the President and his executive committee.

CBSA expects all aspects of its action plan to be in place by March 31, 2009, and there is reason to believe that the problem of late responses may be resolved earlier than that. The Commissioner is confident that CBSA will be a good news story in next year’s annual report.


Previous   Table of contents   Next