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Many of the initiatives required to make the Act more efficient and effective do not require legislative change. Indeed, a good blueprint for administrative reform was set out in the 2002 report of the government’s Access to Information Review Task Force: "Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians".
In this regard, too, this Commissioner has offered to the President of the Treasury Board (the minister designated to ensure the effective administration of the Act throughout government) cooperation in the realization of that blueprint.
Administrative renewal must make it a priority to professionalize and support the unsung heroes of government transparency - the Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) administrators. Their role should now be recognized as a unique profession and be acknowledged as a specific element of accountability in our system of government.
Key deputy ministers, especially those whose departments can’t seem to respect consistently their obligations to answer access requests within statutory deadlines, are now recognizing that there is a system-wide problem in recruiting and retaining qualified ATIP officers. This problem was clearly identified in the 2002 Task Force Report: "Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians", as follows:
"Dedicated, qualified, motivated access professionals are crucial to the effective provision of access to information. Attracting and retaining skilled staff is now a significant challenge for ATI units as the demand for qualified employees far exceeds the supply. This situation will worsen as experienced access officials retire, move to other positions, or leave the public service. This has unfortunately led to a practice of access units "poaching" staff from each other, and the overuse of contractors in some departments. While the use of contractors is appropriate when needed to meet unplanned demand or temporary staffing shortages, it cannot be a long-term strategy or a viable approach to the day-to-day delivery of the access program.
Recruitment, retention and succession planning are now an urgent necessity, and must be addressed on a government-wide basis. Among the successful measures that some institutions are using to bring people into the access community is the creation of developmental positions, or internships, in access units. Through such positions they recruit staff to the access unit from other parts of the institution or from outside the public service, applying a philosophy of "growing our own" through on-the-job staff development.
There are several initiatives that could help make working in ATI an attractive career choice:
- Enhancing career mobility by classifying access officials within a broader grouping of professionals with related skills and impact (for example, in some institutions, access units are located with the compliance and rights-based processes, while in others they are with strategic areas such as planning, communications or executive services, or with information management officials);
- Standardizing statements of qualifications for ATIP Coordinator positions, as well as for other access staff positions, along with suggested tools to assess the qualifications; and
- Reviewing classification standards within the access to information community, examining and rationalizing the levels of Access to Information Coordinator, analyst and staff positions across the government."
These same challenges are being experienced throughout Canada in provincial and municipal governments, and there is a widespread recognition of the need for national professional standards for ATIP administrators.
An exciting step was taken this year towards establishing a new profession of information rights (i.e. access to information and privacy) administrators in Canada. Two of Canada’s associations of access and privacy administrators (CAPA and CAPAPA) came together to spearhead an initiative to develop core competencies and a certification process for the new profession. The initiative is supported by a grant from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the salary of the initiative’s national director is being borne by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada. Office space, and administrative and technical support for the national director, is provided by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.
As well, an advisory working group of nine recognized access to information and privacy rights experts from across Canada, chaired by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, was formed to oversee the development of national professional standards and to propose a process for certifying and overseeing the new profession. The Quebec association of ATIP professionals (l’Association sur l’accès et la protection de l’information) has lent its support to this initiative and is represented on the working group.
The first phase of the initiative is complete; a set of professional competencies, or standards, has been developed and approved by the working group of experts. Those standards, along with a detailed description of the project and information about how interested parties may learn more and provide comment, are available from the Information Commissioner’s website.
The second phase of the project, the development of a professional certification and governance process, is ongoing, with a target date of completion by November 30, 2007.
In the coming months, a concerted effort will be made to encourage governments and private sector employers to commit to reflecting professional standards for information and privacy administrators in their hiring, promotion, and continuing education activities. For its part, this office will encourage the Treasury Board of Canada to take a leadership role in professionalizing the federal ATIP workforce.