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7. Setting a good example

Part and parcel with our new business processes came a commitment to continuously strive to set a good example of service—particularly in how we responded to access to information requests. This year we showed that we are, in fact, meeting that goal in all aspects of our operations.

Providing timely assistance to requesters

Our exemplary performance in responding to access to information and privacy requests continued in 2009-2010. Since becoming subject to the Access to Information Act in 2007, we have sought to become an example to other federal institutions of how to effectively handle access and privacy requests.

Table 1. Access to information and privacy caseload, 2007-2008 to 2009-2010 

  2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
Access requests 93 114 27
Requests for consultations from federal institutions 23 23 4
Privacy requests 2 1 3
Total 118 138 34
       
Number of pages to review 7,696 40,500 56,589
 

We received considerably fewer access requests (34) this year than previously (see Table1). However, these requests accounted for more than 56,000 pages to review. This is a 40 percent increase over the volume of pages in 2008-2009 and a 635 percent increase over 2007-2008.

To ensure that we are always providing the best service to requesters, we established a number of principles that guide our access work. Among them is that we take as few time extensions as possible, and for as short a time as possible. In line with this, we took only three time extensions in 2009-2010: one of 14 days, one of 15 days and one, for a particularly large file (more than 40,000 pages), of 180 days. In the last case, however, through teamwork and hard work, we were able to deliver the records to the requester a week early. Moreover, we completed all our requests on time.

We remain in constant contact with requesters and seek their collaboration at each step of the access process. We also prepare interim releases as a matter of course, to ensure requesters get documents as quickly as possible, particularly when time is of the essence.

In fact, we are making every effort to assist requesters. In one instance, we provided paper copies of requested records for free to a requester who had no access to a computer and could not afford the photocopying fees.

There was only one complaint in 2009-2010 about how we handled an access request. The Information Commissioner ad hoc, who investigates complaints about how we handle access requests, found the complaint to be unsubstantiated and it was closed in a week.

In his annual report, the Information Commissioner ad hoc, the Honourable W. Andrew Mackay, praised our work in responding to access requests, noting that we set “an example for other institutions in effectively processing requests…”.

Enhancing IM/IT to support our business

This year was the first year of implementation of our five-year strategy to enhance our information management and information technology (IM/IT) capabilities in support of our operations and to allow us to work to our full potential. We received funding from Treasury Board to dedicate to this work in May 2009.

We accomplished all our goals for this year, added and completed some new projects and advanced the start of others that are still to come to fruition. Here are some examples:

  • We developed and implemented a comprehensive information management program from the ground up.

  • We accelerated project delivery and took innovative approaches to applying information technology in support of investigations.

  • We formalized the help desk function and made flexibility and service our priorities.

  • We assessed, and then improved and expanded our management reporting information.

  • We brought IM and IT security policies into alignment with federal standards.

  • We began to make significant investments in IT infrastructure.

  • We contributed to a greener organization.

Of particular note this year was our success in identifying and re-purposing existing tools from elsewhere within the government. As a small agency with limited resources, this is essential to our being able to carry out the many initiatives of our IM/IT strategy. Among the many instances of this are our core IM training package, a user guide for the information management system and our case management software.

A large part of our work this year centred on developing and introducing IM processes and practices to the organization, focusing initially on records retention and disposition of paper files. We will now turn our attention to improving our electronic capabilities for producing, capturing and retaining official records.

Implementing exemplary financial governance

Prudent spending is always crucial in small organizations such as ours, and will continue to be so as we enter a period of fiscal restraint. The improvements we made in terms of financial reporting in 2009-2010 will serve us well as we monitor and adjust our spending to make optimal use of our limited resources. For example, we improved—in format and quality—the analysis and information we provide to management each month to help them make decisions and assist with due diligence. All directors and managers must now sign off on these monthly reports.

Our efforts to improve our financial management practices and governance were recognized in 2009-2010. We received a clean audit from the Office of the Auditor General. We also received an A grade from the Office of the Receiver General for providing more accurate and timely reporting of financial information to Parliament and Canadians. This grade is up from a D the year before.

Managing our people

As noted in Chapter 1, recruiting and training investigators was the key human resources priority for 2009-2010, the first year of our integrated five-year human resources plan.

Developing this plan brought the importance of clearly linking business planning and human resources planning into focus. Integrated planning has enabled us to proactively respond to risks in terms of timely recruitment, retention and developing qualified staff to meet our ongoing and emerging workload and obligations.

We also developed a number of new tools to help employees and managers, including an orientation guide for new employees and a guide to human resources for managers, as well as various training and awareness sessions.

Looking ahead 

Enhancing IM and IT infrastructure

We will continue to integrate and standardize IM/IT in accordance with the IM/IT Strategic Plan 2009-2014. Projects of particular focus next year will be the implementation of the new case management system for investigations and rolling out the information management system to all areas of our organization.

Sustaining our human resources capacity

The successful implementation of our new business model largely depends on its ability to attract, develop and retain a group of highly productive and technology-savvy investigators. As of April 2010, our full contingent of investigators was in place.

However, as this group is currently in high demand across the government, staffing will remain an ongoing activity within the office and will be completed in accordance with the organization’s integrated human resources plan.

Reviewing governance tools

We will be updating our corporate risk assessment and performance measurement framework, and will be implementing our new internal control policy.